Carolin's Reviews > The Life and Death of St Kilda

The Life and Death of St Kilda by Tom Steel
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's review
Aug 02, 2012

it was ok

I've never heard of St. Kilda before. And I also have to admit that I had to google where this island is situated exactly. Well, there is a map in the book but I'm not so familiar with the Scottish coastal line ;)

The book is about a people living on a rocky and stormy island far out in the Atlantic with no or very little contact to the outside world. They hunted sea birds, collected their eggs and grew some vegetables - and that was what they ate. Besides they had some sheep, mainly for their wool which they needed to knit or made tweed of. They had a hard but at the same time nice life: They shared everything, they had no money, no crime reported for over 400 years. But they also had to be prepared for the rough winter storms, they were mainly on their own - let it be at times with not much to eat or at times of disease. They have worked with tools or in ways that seemed uneffective and 'ancient' for those living on the mainland. They have never seen a tree or a horse or a single little bee because there were no such things on the island. But then the contact to the mainland grew stronger. This had positive and negative effects on the people: They were supported with food and other goods needed for survival but they were also treated like zoo animals. They were curiousities and they came to believe that mainland must be like, many young people left the island to seek their fortune leaving behind too less people to do all the work needed to survive another winter. So the decision was made to evacuate St. Kilda. But how could these people be thrown into a community on the mainland very different from everything they knew? How did they get along with it? And was it the right decision to destroy rather than support something that valuable as the St. Kilda community was not in a monetary but cultural understanding? And what happened to the abandoned island and the animals living on it thereafter? Tom Steel tells about all this very detailed and with many quotations depicting the view of the St. Kildans. Plus, there are many photos for creating a vivid report of the daily life on the island.

Everything put together it was a very interesting topic: a community that differs very much in their opinions, in their skills, knowledge, eating habits and behaviour from the people on the mainland. But at the same time I didn't like so much what the author made out of this topic. He repeated some facts over and over again and some parts were stretched out to the last while others were told quite shortly. The author arranged the chapters thematically not chronically which seems understandable to me, but I also think that it's very important then to be careful not to tell the same thing five times in the book - and the author unfortunately hasn't been too careful about that. That's why I rate "The Life and Death of St. Kilda" only two stars, though I was moved by and interested in the fate of the islanders very much.
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Reading Progress

August 2, 2012 – Shelved
September 2, 2012 – Started Reading
September 3, 2012 –
page 25
September 4, 2012 –
page 54
September 9, 2012 –
page 93
September 10, 2012 –
page 156
September 11, 2012 – Finished Reading

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