Set in the ‘fictional’ villageof Shean, a coal-mining town somewhere on the west coast of Cape Breton Island (an obvious reference to Inverness for any who know the history) A Forest for Calum is a story of growing up rural, Catholic and Gaelic – and all the drama, guilt, romance and heartbreak that comes along with it. Despite taking place more than a generation earlier than my life, the parallels are striking, and helped bring the story to life in my imagination.
Roddie Gillies lives with his grandfather, Calum, a Gaelic speaking carpenter and storyteller (sounds like my family), and a calm, quiet influence on young Roddie’s life (not as much like my family any more).
When one of his grandfather’s friends writes a poem in memory of friends lost in (or to) the mines, Roddie and his friends help the two older men to “plant” the poem, using the trees that correspond with the 18 letters in the Gaelic alphabet creating a remarkable, 400 tree forest.
Occasionally drifting dangerously close to quaint Cape Breton cliché, A Forest for Calum is saved by MacDonald’s commendable storytelling skills. Highly recommended.
Paperback: 383 pages
Publisher: Cape Breton University Press (2005)