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Island of Wings

3.34 of 5 stars 3.34  ·  rating details  ·  514 ratings  ·  121 reviews
On the ten-hour sailing west from the Hebrides to the islands of St Kilda, everything lies ahead for Lizzie and Neil MacKenzie. Neil is to become the minister to the small community of islanders and Lizzie, his new wife, is pregnant with their first child. Neil's journey is evangelical: a testing and strengthening of his own faith against the old pagan ways of the St Kilda ...more
Paperback, 311 pages
Published April 1st 2011 by Quercus Books (first published 2011)
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 1,341)
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Rebecca Foster
(3.5) An accomplished and atmospheric novel set on the remote British island of St. Kilda between 1830 and 1843, inspired by the story of the historical MacKenzie family. (Minor spoilers follow.) As in Lucy Caldwell’s The Meeting Point, the main character is a missionary’s wife, Lizzie MacKenzie, who finds herself isolated in an unfamiliar environment where religious and linguistic differences make assimilation difficult. A theme in both novels is the cooling of the relationship with a distant h ...more
Joanne
I was really looking forward to reading this novel - I'd picked a couple of books based in the Scottish Highlands and Islands for my visit to the Highlands, and I thought that that idea behind the book was really interesting - the author has obviously done a lot of research into the subject, by writing a fictional story based on historical fact, and I admire the amount of work she has put into it. But I just really didn't like the style of writing. I love descriptive books that sweep me away, bu ...more
Kimberly
Mar 28, 2012 Kimberly rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Historical Fiction Lovers
I read this book for three challenges. My Around the World challenge which I can knock Scotland off my list because this book takes place on the the island of St. Kilda which is off the coast of Scotland. I also read this for my RCC Challenge, and the NetGalley 2012 Reading Challenge.


My first love is history, I had to sit through hours and hours of The History Channel, The Discovery Channel, National Geographic Channel etc. as a kid thanks to my dad so unlike a lot of other kids, I actually lov
...more
Christine Blachford
I’ve got mixed feelings about this one. The amount of research that has gone into this shines through from the very start, and it becomes obvious quite quickly that this is a fiction story layered on top of what really should have been a non-fiction piece about the island of St Kilda.

There are detailed descriptions about the people, about their customs and unique way of life, from the way they hunt puffins to the way a marriage ceremony unfolds. Based on letters and records from the island at th
...more
Beadyjan
This review also features on my book blog http://beadyjansbooks.blogspot.co.uk/

I chose this book as it appeals to my longing for escape, I love to read about women who have settled somewhere remote and alien to their usual surroundings and you can't get much more remote than the Isle of St Kilda.

This book tells the account of the lives of true couple Reverend Neil McKenzie and his wife Lizzie who in 1830 take up residence on the Scottish Island of St Kilda to bring Christianity to the barely civ
...more
Lyn (Readinghearts)
Dec 30, 2011 Lyn (Readinghearts) rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: historical fiction readers
Recommended to Lyn (Readinghearts) by: Netgaller
I have been a history buff since the dawn of time, or at least since I first read the Little House on the Prairie books by Laura Ingalls Wilder. I fell in love with being able to live life as others did, even if it was vicariously. I picked this book because the New Hebrides Islands were an area that I had never explored before, which intrigued me. I had read many books about and taking place in Scotland, but never anything in this particular area. The first thing that amazed me about this book ...more
Marla
This book was a goodreads giveway and a gift. Historical fact combines with fiction in the story of Rev. Neil MacKenzie's arrival to "Save the souls" of the primitive community on the remote St. Kilda Island, in the early 1800's. Physical and emotional isolation are the themes with which Altenberg weaves a melancholy tale. Vivid sensory imagery depicts the setting and the forces of nature with haunting accuracy.
Allison
Beautifully written, with a searing sense of place and well-drawn, profoundly conflicted characters.
Erin
Find the enhanced version of this and other reviews at: http://flashlightcommentary.blogspot....

St. Kilda is an archipelago some 40 miles from North Uist on the western edge of Scotland. Geographically remote, isolation emerged as the predominant theme of life in this sequestered corner of the world. Nowhere is this concept better illustrated than in Altenberg's portrayal of Lizzie McKenzie. Newly married and pregnant, Lizzie views St. Kilda as an adventure. Soon after her arrival, her fantasies
...more
Felice
This years’ Orange has given me a couple wonderful treats including Island of Wings by Karin Altenberg.



In 1830 the Reverend Neil MacKenzie and his wife Lizzie arrive on the island St. Kilda to do missionary work. The MacKenzies are hopeful, in love and happily expecting their first child. They are full of vigorous believe that their efforts to educate the populace of the island on all topics but especially God will set them all on the right path. And. If the island happens to turn more British
...more
Cheryl Gatling
The cover blurb proclaims that this book is about love and loss in a marriage. It is true. That is in here. Neil and Lizzie MacKenzie would have faced challenges enough in their new marriage by becoming missionaries to the remote Scottish islands of St Kilda, basically a few rocks way out in a stormy ocean, covered with aggressive, stinking seabirds. Communication and supplies from the outside world come only once or twice a year by boat. Lizzie doesn't even speak the language (Gaelic) of the fe ...more
Lydia Laceby
Originally Reviewed at Novel Escapes

Rated 3.5 Star

I didn’t love Island of Wings and I didn’t hate it. I was interested enough to continue to see what happened and at times found it horrific and fascinating but overall, I’m just not sure this novel was for me. Island of Wings is a historical novel about the Island of St Kilda, the inhabitants and a Reverend and his wife who are posted there to guide the ‘savages’ into modern life. Based on real people, the novel is a fictitious account of their l
...more
Kimberly
Island of Wings is a well-written portrayal of the isolated lives of a missionary and his family on the island of St. Kilda, Scotland, in the 1830s and 1840s. I've never been to St. Kilda, and I obviously wasn't alive in the 19th century, but this book just feels authentic. While I was reading it, I really got a sense of the characters' inner personalities and a sense of the bleakness of the island. For example, Lizzie is written in what I believe to be a true to the time period manner. Lately I ...more
Mij Woodward
I am unable to finish reading this book because it feels like a TV docudrama meant to reveal life on treeless Hirta in 1830, what day-to-day life was iike for the native St. Kildans living there, and what life was like for a minister and his wife who moved there from Scotland.

The idea for this book is absolutely fascinating to me, and I admit, I have loved learning about the dwelling places of the inhabitants and their way of life, surviving on birds for the most part. I am fascinated by the ch
...more
Ellie
In 1830, Reverend Neil Mckenzie and his young wife, Lizzie, make their way to the remote island of St Kilda to start a new life and bring Christianity to the Pagan inhabitants.

Poor, poor Lizzie. She is an English speaker on an island where everyone speaks Gaelic, except her husband, who is more interested in saving souls than keeping his wife company. It must have been an incredibly lonely life for her in the early days, isolated from the rest of the world. The infant mortality rate on the isla
...more
Laurie Frost
I don't go in for historical fiction as a rule, and would not categorize this as such, although it does use as its protagonists a real-life Church of Scotland minister and his wife.

What attracted me to it is the setting: St. Kilda, a tiny island west of the westernmost islands of the Outer Hebrides, which was evacuated of its last few dozen residents in the 1930s after thousands of years of human habitation. No reported serious crimes in the island's history, and none of its citizens ever fought
...more
Laura
Aug 23, 2011 Laura rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Book Clubs
Recommended to Laura by: Publisher ARC
This book will make a great book club selection and I have already listed it for our own Contemporary Fiction Book Club Reading List 2012. Historical Fiction, richly imagined and revealed characters, incredible decriptions, a grand adventure brought to light,. Think The Piano Tuner or Letters From Yellowstone or even Abide with Me. St Kilda certainly made a fascinating backdrop for the thwarted dreams and woes of this minister and his new bride determined to keep their love and mission alive in ...more
Sam Fleming
When I started, I believed I was about to read a non-fiction book about island life on St Kilda. What I found was a novelisation of the true story of Lizzie and Neil MacKenzie, who were the first and last occupiers of the Church of Scotland manse on Hirta in the 19th Century.

The novel takes an omniscient third as its point of view, which I tried to think of as being the island itself, because otherwise it was jarring to be bumped from POV to POV as I read; although it arguably could have been Go
...more
Juliet Wilson
In 1830, Neil MacKenzie is the new church minister to St Kilda, the most remote part of the United Kingdom. He and his wife Lizzie start a new life in the small community on the island, where they find poverty, unsanitary living conditions and an epidemic of babies dying in their first week of life.

The Mackenzies are historical figures, but this is a novel based on their time on St Kilda. it's the story of one man's battle, as he saw it, to bring a community into the modern day. MacKenzie doesn'
...more
Carry
I'm not sure how to rate this book. I'm torn between two things:
The story was interesting but the characters didn't feel real at all. Even after 200 pages I didn't feel like I knew them. It doesn't help that Altenberg hops from one point of view to another. Beside that I also wondered why characters did certain things. There motivation wasn't clear to me and this made me unable to connect to them. While the book is about the relationship between the minister and his wife on this island at the se
...more
Cath
St Kilda is a fascinating place and the history has always intrigued me. This is definitely a well researched book in that regard. The atmosphere of the island itself was perhaps my favourite aspect of the entire novel.

However, I didn't feel like I got to know enough about the inhabitants as fully fleshed-out people. The reader is allowed to be close to one or two through Lizzie or her minister husband but I became annoyed by the latter putting them down all the time. I know that in a historical
...more
Val
Reverend Neil McKenzie, a Church of Scotland minister, and his pregnant wife, Lizzie, travel to Hirta, in the St. Kilda group of the outermost Outer Hebrides. The minister has a sense of calling and speaks Gaelic. His wife does not speak the language, does not understand the society and feels very much an outsider.
Karin Altenberg is Swedish; although there is absolutely nothing wrong with her English in this novel, she may have an understanding of the barriers of language and culture and some sy
...more
Liesbeth
Tried to plough through this but failed to do so.
Megan
Island of Wings - Karin Altenburg
I picked up this book from the Library and it looked like a very promising book.
However I felt a little disappointed when there were only brief overviews of what seemed like very significant points in the novel.
The author seemed very knowledgeable on the era in which the novel was set and the book mainly focused on that time period whereas I felt it would have greatly improved the quality of the story line if the plot was explored in greater depth.
Altenburg doe
...more
Ann-Marie
In my mind the real main character in this novel is St. Kilda, a small group of islands in the Outer Hebrides in the middle of nowhere. But its through Lizzie, the reverends wife we get to know the Island and those who lived there under extreme conditions. Its a very fascinating and well told story.

...more
Beth
Beautiful writing and descriptions of life on the island, but not much of a story line.
Crystal
This is a sorry case of someone trying to get some extra mileage out of their dissertation. It may be that St. Kilda is archeologically interesting; however, Altenberg doesn't have enough understanding to characters and plot to actually share that with readers. The main character, a preacher, is so one dimensional it's a miracle his slightly better drawn wife actually stays with him. I kept hoping something would happen -that there would actually be some development of the protagonists but no - ...more
Susan Tunis
My best friend and I jokingly rate books and films on their “Susan-friendliness,” and that’s nothing more than the completely subjective scale of my idiosyncratic likes and dislikes. I should have known that Karin Altenberg’s debut novel, Island of Wings wouldn’t be my cup of tea. But that said, I don’t necessarily think that there’s a thing wrong with this novel. It’s not my kind of story, but I think that it was skillfully and effectively told.

Perhaps most interestingly, the story here is heav
...more
Janet
Karin Altenberg's debut novel interested me for several reasons: it is set in the remote island of Hirta, the main island of the St Kilda archipelago. I love the Hebrides, though have never yet managed to get out as far as St Kilda, now unpopulated except by the sea birds whose constant mournful calls echo throughout the story.

The book's two main characters are Rev. Neil Mackenzie and his young wife Lizzie, based on a real couple who lived there in the 1830s. Lizzie's character is the more compe
...more
Angelika
I really like those books, which take their time for the story to develop, which describe in detail surroundings, thoughts, coherencies or characters! "Island of Wings" is one of them. The (quite interesting) storyline is based on real persons and events and seems to be well researched. Even if, especially the abundant descriptions of nature, sometimes are a bit tedious and slow the reading down, Altenberg has an outstanding talent to make atmospheres palpable, to let her readers almost feel phy ...more
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KARIN ALTENBERG is senior advisor to the Swedish National Heritage Board and is a fellow of the Linnean Society. She is currently at work on her second novel. She lives in London.
More about Karin Altenberg...
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“The only way we can come to understand other beings is by tainting them with a bit of ourselves. When we are all covered by the same filth it is possible to understand earch other - and to believe in each other.” 3 likes
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