4.5 of 5 stars
Published January 1928
This really is a David vs Goliath tale where a young man, David, comes to a small rocky island off the coast of Nova Scotia to work as a shareholder in the fishing industry with his uncle Uriah Jung who is “king” of the island though the rival family, the Krauses are continually the bane of his existence. David has inherited a legitimate share and is determined to make a living. He’s a hard worker and does not back down when challenged.
The life of a fisherman when this book was written, in the late 1920s, was tough, tougher and more arduous than you can imagine, without even any outboard motors on the boats at the beginning of the book though they crept in. It was man against the sea and the tremendous forces of nature and nature usually won if it had a mind to. There’s drama on the island, family relationships, as David slowly finds his feet and starts to make a home for himself.
David spends most of his time on the island of Rockbound at odds with Uriah Jung. His best friend is Gershom who ends up being a rival for the love of the new school teacher, Mary along with one of Uriah’s sons. The men of the island are rough and strong and hard workers. The women, too, work hard and seem to be stoic in their acceptance of their lot in life, a life for all which is very hard. The ocean is almost a character itself with many moods and tempers.
The book is written with the dialogue as spoken, a very strong accent similar to what we think of as from Newfoundland but I suppose the fishing community would spread out all around the Maritimes from a similar origin. I didn’t find it difficult to read because I can hear it spoken in my head but some may find it hard to decipher. I think the depiction of the life of an early-twentieth century fisherman is accurate and the main characters and dialogue are both true, real. And that David and Goliath story? We know how that came out though how Goliath is ultimately brought down in the end is a spoiler.
edited to add: I guess I didn’t really say if I liked the book or not though the 4.5 stars is a good indicator. I did, very much. I liked the characters, I read David’s struggles over the years with hope that he’d come out on top. I found the descriptions of the lifestyle really interesting and have a new respect for fishermen especially for the ones that did the job for centuries with no technology at all. If the accented dialogue doesn’t put you off, I would really recommend it.
This book won Canada Reads in 2005. It would have been interesting to hear the competition and defenses.