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New Books Network Interview: Robin Oliveira

Against a background of water, mountains, and forest, a man and woman row in a small boat; cover of Robin Oliveira's A Wild and Heavenly Place

Robin Oliveira’s A Wild and Heavenly Place defied all my expectations—in a good way. I accepted it for a New Books Network interview because it involved Scotland, where my family comes from, and specifically Glasgow, where my parents met and married. At first, I thought the “wild and heavenly place” might be the Scottish Highlands, which even today merit such a designation. But when I began to read, I encountered a Glasgow I had heard about but never experienced: an industrial city notorious for its tenements, where the wealthy and middle-class minority spurned the poor majority.

Filth, disease, poor housing, hunger, joblessness—the city suffered from all of these plagues. In my latest New Books Network interview, Robin Oliveira and I discuss her characters’ lives, what drew her to write about them, and how she extricates them from their difficult, even perilous position.

And hint: that wild and heavenly place, although indeed quite wild, is in some ways not much more heavenly than Glasgow.

Seattle in 1882; a series of wooden buildings flank an unpaved street where several carriages are driving and people walking

As usual, the rest of this post comes from New Books in Historical Fiction.

When Samuel Fiddes and Hailey MacIntyre meet by chance in Glasgow, Scotland, in 1878, their worlds appear to be far distant from each other. Samuel lives with his little sister, Alison, in a tenement—the two of them scrabbling to keep themselves fed and clothed. Hailey enjoys a comfortable middle-class life, although the expectations placed on her as a young woman restrict her future not simply to marriage and motherhood but to a union with the “right” man, defined in terms of wealth and prestige.

Despite this social gap, Samuel and Hailey form an instant bond after he rescues her younger brother from a near-fatal run-in with a careless carriage driver. Both know that Hailey’s parents disapprove of their friendship, never mind a budding romance, but a mix of attraction and teenage rebellion draws them together.

Then fate intervenes. Financial disaster strikes the MacIntyre family just as things start to look up for Samuel and Alison. Hailey’s father decides to move his family to Washington Territory, where he plans to oversee a coal mine. A month or two later, Samuel sets off with Alison to follow them. But the Seattle of 1880 is nothing like what any of them expect. It will take a lot of time and effort, it turns out, for Samuel and Hailey to find each other in their wild and heavenly place.

Image: Seattle in 1882, public domain via Wikimedia Commons.


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