I picked up this book while traveling through Scotland, because our guide told us the short version of this incredible tale and it resonated with all those traits that were making me fall in love with the country. After reading it I can say I’m happy I did so.
The main tale, that of a passionate man and his project, is not the only thing that these pages have to offer, and even if that was the case, it is an extraordinary story in itself and would be worth reading on its own. But this book is about much more. While recounting how Calum McLeod grew up and then old, watching his native community become smaller and smaller, until it was only him and his wife, even his own child driven away, the author also spins in the stories of a whole community, he gives you a sense of history, of what has happened through the Highlands and Islands during the last two centuries. It’s a tale of stubbornness, of doing the right or heroic thing and doing it not for glory or any prize, but because it was the only option, because anything less would have been unacceptable and easier options weren’t even deemed worth considering.
What is, perhaps, even more important, this is mostly an honest description of what really happened, not some overly sentimental or romanticized version, and, if it ends up moving you, it is not thank to some literary embellishment. The prose is well crafted, flowing, flawlessly mixing Calum’s tale with those of the other inhabitants of this small Hebridean group of island, but it is the story that keeps you coming back, page after page, until you have reached the end.
On the outside the tale is simple, a man saw everyone else move away from his native land, worn down by the lack of even the most elementary commodities. They had asked for years for things like a bridge to allow children to go to school without the risk of being cut off from their own houses or a road. Basic things that they had been denied time after time, until they all had to give up. All but one who decided to take things in his own hands, to build that road himself, hoping to bring back those who had been driven away and maybe even new people.
It’s a powerful, inspiring story. But there is more to this book, like there was more to Calum McLeod than what met the eyes, and that will keep you reading into the wee hours of the night if you decide to give it a chance.