Sunday, October 28, 2007

BOOK: The Lost Salt Gift of Blood by Alistair MacLeod

The Lost Salt Gift of Blood by Alistair MacLeod

a collection of short stories
Nova Scotia book for the Canadian Book Challenge

This collection of short stories gives such a wonderful history of life on the sea in Nova Scotia. The hard life of fishermen and coal miners, and the sacrifice and conflicts between the generations are told in brutal honesty and with a style that makes you feel you have lived this life.

Maybe it is just that I see a version of these conflicts here in the Maritimes today. I have neighbours whose husbands have left for the oilfields of Alberta because they can not support their family here. I have colleagues who never see their grandchildren because their own children have moved 'away' and only get a visit once a year. The life here is filled with people who leave, and the people who stay, and the conflict and unhappiness that results.

One story tells the point of view of the mother who wants her son to carry on her family tradition of fishing, and can't understand her daughters who left and married well in the Boston states. Her husband wants more for his son than the life of fishing that he has held. The conflict over the old way and education and the struggle between them.

Then the reverse, where the parents have moved away to make a better life for their children, sacrificing everything for their education, and the children who don't want that life, and miss the old ways.
The conflict between parents and children, the old ways and the new, poverty and trying to better a life. While these stories are set in the late 60s early 70s, life and the challenges haven't changed at all. The fish aren't here anymore, the coal mines are shut down, and there is always some new catastrophe in the economy. MacLeod writes beautifully, putting so much in few words, and I enjoyed this collection of stories as a history of my region, and as a commentary on how life hasn't changed all that much. They are sad stories, but not depressing, and with a twinge of hope in people accepting their fate.


  1. I love MacLeod's writing and really enjoyed your review. I heard him read in Edinburgh some years ago - he's very popular in Scotland because he also writes about "our" end of the Scotland/Canada connection. Reading some of his description of Nova Scotia reminds me of time I spent on the west coast here - the landscape must have seemed very familiar to the new arrivals. A wonderful way to read history!

  2. I had to read this in high school and HATED it. It's so depressing. I don't know how I'd feel about it now though.

  3. geraniumcat - I didn't realize you were in Scotland. I'm married to a MacAulay, and they originally came from Uist or Benbecula, couple hundred years ago, so they are Scots. And I imagine the landscape is very similar. Like PEI is more like Ireland; Cape Breton and NS are more Scotland

    chris - what is it about books you have to read in HS? It's like HS sucks all the good out of literature. I hated Wuthering Heights in high school.

  4. Like Chris, I read this one in university and enjoyed it a little but found it too gloomy. Since then, his novel No Great Mischief has become one of my favourites. I question if I wouldn't enjoy The Last Salt Gift of Blood more at this stage in my life.

  5. I'm getting pretty anzy to revisit the maritimes. I'm really enjoying Latitudes of Melt and now you make me want to read these stories of Nova Scotia. Next time I want to visit in late July or early Aug when the bakeapples are ready to harvest. I would love to see a whole bog orange with the bakeapples shimmering in the sun.

    We need to spend many more days in Nova Scotia, PEI and New Brunswick.

  6. My teacher made me read this yesterday. I thought it was about a road trip through nova scotia and some nice people let the guy who was on said road trip into their house. Then the story went on to describe some fishing and what not and something about an egg shel.. Wtf did I just read


Thanks for commenting, so nice of you to visit.

(I'll try without the letters for a while - so please dont be a spammer! Let's try no anonymous users)