The Man from Burnt Island

Fiction - Historical - Personage
341 Pages
Reviewed on 10/27/2021
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    Book Review

Reviewed by Vincent Dublado for Readers' Favorite

Wendy Sura Thomson’s historical personage novel, The Man from Burnt Island, is one of those rare generational tales with a heart. This story reminds you how much power time possesses in turning the wheels of life. It tells the story of Frank Sharp, a man born into a Scottish family having a tough time during the economic upheavals at the turn of the twentieth century. You immediately grasp this as the story opens with Frank receiving encouragement from his schoolmaster to continue his education. Yet, at the dinner table at home, he can’t mention this. As families are being lured by the promise of the Great American Dream, his family sails across the Atlantic for a better life. But Frank had to stay behind, and it took him longer than he expected when the Immigration Act reduced the number of immigrants allowed into the country. Frank will face more social, political, and economic challenges that will shape his legacy and demand him to sacrifice more than he bargained for.

The story is simple and told with strong, evocative details. Wendy Sura Thomson has a talent for capturing the Scottish accent and dialect, and she generously provides you with a guide to understanding Broad Scot at the beginning of her story. Fair warning: Reading the dialogue might not come easily to those conditioned to reading standard English dialogues. However, the way Frank and his fellow Scots speak is true to what Sura Thomson writes: it mirrors Frank’s ambition-driven transformation. The Man from Burnt Island feels very much rooted in the time in which it is set. I believe that it hits the spot of what Tennessee Williams calls a memory play. The beauty of this novel persists, and it creates a strong nostalgia for anyone who has a fondness for family history. The Man from Burnt Island is a novel with a big heart, one that is guaranteed to engage your senses from start to finish.

Trudi LoPreto

The Man from Burnt Island opens in 1912 with Frank Sharp just completing primary school, and we follow Frank and his family until his death at a very old age. Frank sees Margaret at a dance and knows immediately she is the girl of his dreams. When Great Britain declares war on Germany, Frank signs up and asks Margaret to wait for him. They marry and face the hardships of the times together, going to America and hoping for a better life for themselves and their young son. Life has many ups and downs for the Sharps in trying to find their way in a new country. Unfortunately, they soon become part of the out-of-work and struggling people of the Great Depression. Frank does anything he can to provide for his family, starting in Canada, moving to Detroit to be a part of the growing car industry, and then moving them from place to place as each better opportunity presents itself. The years pass, and we meet grown children and grandchildren along with co-workers and Frank’s bosses.

The Man from Burnt Island gave a real-life picture of the struggles the Sharp family had to endure. It was easy to feel the ambition of Frank and the loneliness and worry of Margaret. The Sharp family brothers all share in the troubled times and they too become players and I felt their pain. It is a sad time with many struggles but somehow “The Man from Burnt Island” walks us through the war and the Depression, revealing a good side as well as a bad one. If you enjoy reading family sagas, Great Depression situations, and everyday life types of stories, then The Man from Burnt Island is a must-read.

Kimberlee J Benart

The Man from Burnt Island is a work of historical fiction by Wendy Sura Thomson. It follows the life of Frank Sharp, a young man born into a poor coal-mining family in Scotland at the turn of the century. Following behind other family members, Frank later immigrates to North America in search of prosperity, to provide a better life for his young wife and son. Against the backdrop of World War I, the Great Depression, Prohibition, World War II, and the years that followed, Frank works his way up from a struggling day laborer to successful and lucrative positions in industry, uprooting his family several times in pursuit of the wealth and security he desires. However, it costs him in other ways he doesn’t foresee. Will he find what he seeks?

I enjoyed reading The Man from Burnt Island. Wendy Sura Thomson paints a portrait of a man prepared to sacrifice a great deal to go where he thinks his future is brightest. The development of his character spans decades, from his youth to old age, and Thomson delineates both his strengths and weaknesses with a skilled hand. Frank is well-respected by many, a handsome, intelligent man of strong build and seemingly endless energy. He makes many friends and adapts readily to his changing circumstances even as family members and relationships are sometimes left behind. With much of the story set in Detroit during the rise of the auto industry, this is a fascinating look at American life through the struggles of the time. The work is highly recommended.