Each Alone, Across A Vast Unknown

A Scottish Family's Lives and Solo Journeys To America

Fiction - Historical - Personage
540 Pages
Reviewed on 08/20/2022
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    Book Review

Reviewed by Asher Syed for Readers' Favorite

Each Alone, Across a Vast Unknown: A Scottish Family's Lives and Solo Journeys To America by Sally Eccleston is the portrayal of the very real family history of the author's paternal and maternal legacies. Set in the mid-to-latter 19th century, Eccleston chronicles three lives that live on decades after their passing and the paths taken by each. Alternating points of view bring to life Henry Baird, Adam Baird, and Catherine Malcolm who are given ample space to tell their stories through Eccleston. Eccleston paints a vibrant picture of childhood that is complete with an unexpected spiritual aspect that includes the fantastical and divine, and the lives that build up to the moments each departs Scotland independent of the other. Adam arrives first and works his way west through hard labor, literally laying down the tracks for future generations to make journeys of their own. Henry faces loss and delay after delay, finally receiving an unexpected push from his father and crossing the Atlantic, leaving behind a five-year-old daughter with ethereal capabilities in the aftermath of the Civil War. Catherine starts her journey dancing in the moonlight to Celtic melodies, only to be faced with possible death under that same sky.

Each Alone, Across a Vast Unknown is, first and foremost, an epic family saga. Sally Eccleston incorporates letters and journal entries alongside an oral accounting of family history passed down the generational line and builds a tale that is robust and authentic. There is the dialogue that aids in making the non-fiction elements easier to conceptualize in the imagination of the reader and this really does help break up long stretches of narrative that describe the who-what-when-where of the moment for different stages of Adam's, Henry's and Catherine's odysseys. The most compelling story to me is Henry's as he is the one leaving the most behind. He is also the one who feels most touched by prophecy and the spiritual aspects of their lives. There is one scene where a thoroughly detailed account of his future in America, who he will marry, and where she will be from is made before it ever even happens. It does happen and the whole story is enough to induce a case of goosebumps. I do wish the crossings had been detailed although I suppose that is the result of Adam and Henry not leaving Eccleston much to work with. They leave Scotland and arrive in America with nary a story in between. Catherine's is more fleshed out. Overall, this is a wonderful account of American history and an absolute pleasure to find oneself immersed in. Very highly recommended.