I seem to be on an accidental journey of reading novel after novel of tales that recount history, culture and tradition; the last four set in the American Northeast where the characters were of Irish, Scottish or Nordic descent.
The authors spend time rewinding the clock, so the reader can vividly see the historical unfolding of an old culture on new ground – America.
New England and Nova Scotia are baked in history, where roots more than linger; they are deeply planted in ways that often complicate the present and prohibit growth. Emotional undertaking. Tearful yet often beautiful saga that keeps one in the past rather than the present journey.
And yet in a world that is bound by tradition and ‘look after your own blood, your own kind,’ heritage thrives. There’s a constant reminder to be proud of your history. Long live tradition, for without such rituals, we may possibly forget heritage as well as the joy of celebrating it.
Reading great literature can take you to that place of celebration; the words get into your veins and are as invigorating to the soul as running in the rain on a warm summer day or a first kiss with someone you know won’t be the last.
In No Great Mischief by Alastair MacLeod, we see a beautiful intertwining and unraveling of a family, where Gaelic keeps them forever bound. It is a culture where ‘endure and bear it’ ensures blood is thicker than anything else and teaches us the power of gratitude.
Here’s a few fabulous passages to give you an idea of his style:
When they were children:
“where we would avert our heads and gasp for air or throw ourselves on our stomachs and breathe with our mouths pressed against the flattened grass or the cranberry vines or the creeping tendrils of wet moss.”
A great moment where he recounts a little girl’s awakening amidst all brothers:
“It is always hard to notice change when you are in its midst, especially as a child. Perhaps in the same way that one does not notice the change the sea inflicts upon the cliff until the morning following the storm. A certain uneasiness at the development of her own small femininity in the midst of their masculine lives.”
On newspapers on a windy day:
“Sometimes the sheets flap open and float like the roofs of pagodas revealing the different languages of their origin. The pigeons walk and flap, rising sometimes almost in concert with the newspapers. They cast their bright eyes everywhere and seem never to be surprised. One rises in the wind, the defect is not noticeable and it seems to flap and fly like all the others. It rises above the greyness of the buildings, circles and returns.”
On cultures inside America and their languages:
“remember how grandpa and grandma used to dream…..sometimes in Gaelic, it was as if they went back to the days when they were younger, as if it had always been the language of their hearts……”
Then he talks about a passage by Margaret Laurence in The Diviners, where Morag talks about “lost languages lurking inside the ventricles of the heart.” Then later, the sister asks her brother: “Do you ever think about that, about the way you speak about the language of the heart and the language of the heart?”
It made me want to go to the language of the heart over and over again. Thanks Alastair MacLeod.