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THE ISLAND HARP by Jeanne Williams


by Jeanne Williams

Pub Date: Dec. 1st, 1991
ISBN: 0-312-06570-1
Publisher: St. Martin's

A Williams woman is at it again, doing the same gutsy things- -dealing with hardship and injustice in a 19th-century pioneer setting and rallying others. Like Susannah of Kansas (No Roof but Heaven, 1990), Mairi of Scotland fires up the miserable to form a community, and like Katie of Arizona ( Home Mountain, 1990), Mairi plays a harp beautifully. Here, the setting is the Scots island of Lewis during the Clearances of the 1840's, when English landowners drove crofters from their homes to use the land for grazing or hunting. Seventeen-year-old Mairi—happy with the simple life with beloved grandfather ``Fearchar,'' Gran, brother Tam, and other relatives—screams in from a summer pasture when she realizes that the laird's factor has set fire to their home. Fearchar dies rescuing his harp, brought years ago from Ireland. Then into the midst of the family's rage and grief steps Captain Iain MacDonald, a Scot by birth but a soldier for the English Queen. Iain does all sorts of kind and good things, but Mairi will never leave the auld soil for America. Eventually, she'll rally family and others of the dispossessed to take over a broch (a ruined tower from an ancient people). Before long, there'll be a reestablishment of herding, small farming, fishing, and weaving—with occasional celebrations, Mairi on harp, Iain on pipes. Of course, there are also crises: Tam's kidnapping, a potato disease, an influx of starving people, etc. Then Mairi is in love with Iain—a ``gentry'' and a match that may never be.... With trembling orations of principle (``Time out of mind, our bodies have turned into Lewis earth. We are rock and soil of this island''), plus Scottish Gaelic drizzled throughout and thick as Highland mist: another tale of a hard-working girl of noble sentiments.