A child’s view of a new world

Between the Mountain and the Sea by Gill Kimber

When an overworked vicar is posted to a remote island in the South Atlantic, his family faces an entirely new life. Tristan da Cunha’s rough but devout population – a couple of hundred lobster fishermen and their constantly knitting wives – live in simple houses, cultivate potatoes and herd cattle. Everyone shares what they have and cooperates, their daily activities dominated by the unpredictable and often fierce weather. Contact with the outside world is limited to intermittent radio messages and occasional ships from Cape Town bringing sacks of mail and supplies. This book gives the modern reader a fascinating insight into this unfamiliar world.

Gill Kimber brings a very personal perspective to memories of her experiences there from her arrival as a seven-year-old until the family returns to England five years later. Dad, alongside his Church duties, comes across as energetic and sociable, very much involved in the life of the community, but quite firm in his principles; a favourite saying is, “He who will not work, let him not eat”. Mum is gentle and practical, and often takes Gilly with her to visit the locals. Mikey, two years younger than Gilly, is a bit of a pain-in-the-neck at times, but life would be boring without him around. Little sister Ba and newborn brother Christy are very sweet and loved by all but too small to have much of a part to play.

Gilly loves riding a donkey, hates working in the potato patch, and has soon read everything there is to read on the island. Major incidents of her years there are the celebratory children’s dance she is supposed to lead – Horror! – at the end of “rattin’ day”, the visit of the handsome young Duke of Edinburgh, Prince Charles, and the agonising days of worry and prayer when her schoolmate Jennifer, along with several fishermen, fail to return from a trip to nearby Nightingale Island.

With the help of original photographs, Gilly and the other characters come alive, geographical details of Tristan da Cunha are well described and day-to-day events recounted graphically. Unfortunately, the narrative voice is somewhat bland.

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