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I’ll start off, up front, by saying The Pearl Thief by Elizabeth Wein is a great book. But who would expect less from the author of Code Name Verity and Rose Under Fire.

Fifteen year old Lady Julia Lindsay MacKenzie Wallace Beaufort-Stuart has returned home for summer break to help her mother and grandmother pack up their household. Her grandfather’s recent death and the realization that they had lost their fortune forced them to sell their centuries old castle, Strathfearn, near Perth, Scotland to a school and construction was under way to convert the house and property to its new use. On her first day home, lying on Drookit Stane, a standing stone in the River Fearn, she is hit over the head and is unconscious for several days. Euen McEwen, a Traveller, a nomadic Scottish group, found her and brought her to the hospital.

Simultaneously, Professor Hugh Housman who was cataloging the antiquities of the household, mysteriously disappears. Julia remembers seeing him in the river, naked, prior to being clonked on the head and many feared that he had drowned, either on purpose (since his advances were recently rebuffed by Solange, Julia’s governess) or by accident.

The Pearl Thief is an amazing story combining Scottish folklore with a coming of age story with a little history with a small mystery. It takes place during the summer of 1938. The Travelers or Tinkers as they’re called (since many sell tin and other metals), are similar to gypsies and have that same derogatory connotation. They are not well regarded by the Scots yet have a long history in the land. The McEwens, especially, were friends with the Stuarts and Julia’s and Euen’s mothers played together as young children.

Wein contrasts the ‘haves’ of Julia’s upper crust gentry status with the ‘have nots’ the McEwens who live from day to day, traveling to where there is work, typically farming. Yet it is the Travelers whose philosophy it is that it is better to give than to receive.

Part of the pleasure of reading Elizabeth Wein is her descriptions–of the land, the history, the mythology. Her story traps you and her language reels you in. I can’t give this book and Wein’s other young adult books, enough accolades.

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