My Top Five Books #2: “The Desperate Journey” by Kathleen Fidler
We did this book in Primary six and I bought myself a copy afterwards. Then I read many many more by Kathleen Fidler. And then loads of others under the same publishing group: “Canongate Kelpies”.
“The Desperate Journey” begins in the Highlands of Scotland during the Clearances. A family are burned out of their home and we follow them on their “Desperate Journey”, to industrial Glasgow and eventually across to settle in Canada. It taught me a lot about the Highland Clearances as a child and also make it clear to me why there are so many sheep in Scotland, and Scots in Canada.
It was the descriptions in the book that I liked at the time. When they are attacked on the road, Kate, the mum intervenes in the fight:
“A weapon? Where’s a weapon?” she cried, searching feverishly among the goods in the cart. The iron saucepan in which she had cooked the morning’s hurried breakfast came to her hand, still half-full of porridge. She stood up in the cart and brought the saucepan down on Matt’s head with all the force she could wield. It cracked down upon his skull, stunning him, and the porridge streamed out over Matt’s head and eyes.
I often think of that crack on the skull when I am wielding a porridge pot…
Since reading the book I have been up north and have visited places associated with the clearances. We went to Dunrobin Castle, from where the Countess of Sutherland gave her orders for the evictions from her land. When you visit the castle and gardens, there is no mention of that episode in the history of the estate. It is a beautiful fairytale castle, though – with an amazing collection of animal heads – but that’s another story…
So, why was this book important?
I think it was a really efficient way of being taught a whole lot of Scottish History. At the age of ten or so, it really caught my imagination because Fidler managed to make me care about the characters as they lost their home, worked in the cotton mills of Glasgow, survived the hazardous Atlantic crossing and lived the life of pioneers.
Perhaps it was a bit “Forrest Gump” in that all of these moments in Scottish history would be unlikely to ALL happen to one family unit that makes it through to the end – but it brought all these historical moments to life.
Isn’t that the wonderful surprise about reading, without even meaning to you learn a lot more about the subject at hand.