“The Man From Burnt Island” by Wendy Sura Thomson

The Man From Burnt Island

Wendy Sura Thomson
Quitt and Quinn (2021)
ISBN: 9781737260059
Reviewed by Amy Lignor for Reader Views (11/2021)

I’m not sure how many people have a “list.” You know, the one that states goals you wish to accomplish; people you wish to meet; or, like me, amazing places you want to visit before heading into the Great Beyond. I blame books for my “list,” because I learn about so many locations from reading. I’ve been successful in hitting seven out of ten so far, with only Greece, Scotland, and Rome left. However, after reading “The Man From Burnt Island,” which brings the beauty, history, and the “real” language of the Scottish folk to life, I have to say Scotland has pushed Greece into my number two slot.

The author, Wendy Sura Thomson, was even kind enough to use her Preface to introduce a glossary of terms, so that she could better explain the accent and words of the Scots circa early 1900s. She also wrote with so much passion for her subject that you end up cheering for the courageous country that, no matter how many times it was knocked down, continued to persevere.

We first meet the ‘hardscrabble’ protagonist, Robert Funkie Thomson Sharp, as he’s taking his class picture on graduation day in 1912; he stands in the back because he was always the tallest in class. Robert has a large clan. Two of his four brothers he will be joining, along with their father, in the Rosie Colliery. He’s not looking forward to the coal mines; he knows he will come home each day covered in black dust, suffering aches and pains from the tedious work. Even though his schoolmaster advises him to continue his education because of his skills, Robert knows the next day he will start at the bottom of the mining food chain as a ‘drawer,’ spending his days pushing and pulling carts loaded with coal, though because he can’t fit in the small spaces where a ‘drawer’ would work, he automatically gets pushed up the ladder to a new position and gets offered more money.

As things are going fairly well for Robert, he meets the woman of his dreams: Margaret Ferrie. He doesn’t have much time with her. The very next day Great Britain declares war on Germany. Even though coal miners are exempt from the draft, because the military will pay five times the amount Robert gets now, he’s forced to enlist and goes off to fight in WWI. After the war, Robert comes home very much alive to a loving woman he wishes to make his wife. Although the bulk of his family ends up heading to the States for a better life, Robert wishes to stick it out in his homeland. But in 1924, when the Immigration Act arises, he actually has to wait because he’s now banned from America until 1929…the year the stock market crashes and the world faces one of the most turbulent times in history.

Every backstory of Robert, his friend, and his family members is interesting, especially when the reader gets to America and settles in Detroit during the harshest of time, only to watch the eventual uprising in the 1950s that made the auto industry one of the most profitable. Watching Robert shed the cloak of poverty, you root for him as he experiences loss, enjoys love, and shows us all that his schoolmaster was right. Robert is a man with smarts, ambition, and one who will not stop until he’s at the very top of the proverbial ladder.

Wendy Sura Thomson has put together a thrilling story, prominent characters, and has used her words as one would use stunning photographs. Each description she gives of locations, eras, and her characters allows readers to see it all clearly in their minds. “The Man From Burnt Island” is truly a fantastic read!

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