Love of Country : A Journey through the Hebrides by Madeleine Bunting

love of countryIn Love of Country, the author addresses the natural worlds of the Hebrides, the islands off the western coast of Scotland, and the tragic history of their inhabitants.  The Hebrides are largely the last bastion of native Scots-Gaelic speakers, whose numbers have dwindled due to forced immigration, lack of jobs, and the harshness of life on the islands; those that remain are marginalized from mainstream British life.  Indeed, the islands and their inhabitants have been perceived as outlandish curiosities in their own country for centuries.

Bunting reflects on the natural environment of the Hebrides and how it has influenced the human factor.  The native islanders learned eons ago how to live with the unyielding winds and coaxed a living from the spare earth of their homes.  Unfortunately, their very existence depended on who owned the land – often absentee landlords trying to turn a profit from ill-conceived enterprises that were usually detrimental to the residents.

There are hundreds of islands in the Hebrides; the author chooses to focus on a small group of them, populated or not.  Each island she visits has its own personality, determined by the terrain and animal life that dominate.  For some we find birder’s paradises (St. Kilda and the Flannan Islands come to mind), others, the preponderance of land animals (Jura’s red deer population vastly outnumbers human beings there).

Love of Country is a meditative book.  Some parts of it reminded me of Robert Macfarlane’s The Wild Places, but with more historical context.  I wouldn’t call it a quick read, but for those who find far-flung areas appealing and can appreciate the poetic beauty of the untamed, please give this one a look.

I started reading about the Hebrides around the age of thirteen, starting with National Geographic articles.  Nearly fifteen years ago, I had the experience to briefly visit two of these islands (Mull and Iona).  The two words I’d use to describe them (beautiful and bleak) are inadequate.  Endlessly fascinating might be a more apt description – and immensely sad.

(William Hicks, Information Services)




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