In a story that begins in a Toronto flop house and journeys back to the immigrant days of the MacDonald family, Canadian author Alistair MacLeod weaves a poignant tale of men linked by blood and culture. As Alexander MacDonald, a successful dentist, struggles to look out after his alcoholic brother, he relives the twisty trail of family history that led him and his twin sister to thrive and his three older brothers, including the broken down Calum, to stumble.
The MacDonald men – brothers and cousins — were a clan of hard-drinking and hard- working miners much sought after for their expertise and daring below ground and characterized above the earth by their quick tempers and red hair. The book’s title originated with the French and Indian War, when the British and French were locked in the Battle of Quebec. General James Wolfe ordered a contingent of Scottish Highlander soldiers to scale the cliffs alongside the St. Lawrence at the Plains of Abraham, knowing full well the men stood to be slaughtered with gunfire from above and commenting that the loss would be “no great mischief.” The Scots, of course, made it over the top and survived.
“My hope is constant in thee, clan Donald” is the cry to action used to summon the MacDonald men to duty whenever one of the clan is in trouble. Standing behind them are the MacDonald women – stalwart, brave and long-suffering. There is pain and loss in this tale that are almost unimaginable in our antiseptic world; there are images that become indelible and triumph that honors the human spirit – and makes you wish you’d been born one of the clan.