Isa’s Daughter by Catherine Byrne

This moving book can be read as a series of interlocking romances, but it’s much more than that. Life on the Orkney island of Raumsey is tough after the Great War and the widow Isa, who has returned from Canada with her daughter Annie, is poor and hardly able to maintain the family croft without a man in the home. So she marries the local Presbyterian minister.

Annie wants to study and persuades the attractive young teacher Alexander to give her lessons in the evenings. The complications start as we follow her and several other characters’ troubled relationships.

Annie trains to be a nurse and develops into a very vivid, headstrong but emotionally pliable personality. Deeper topics such as various political controversies, religious legalism, sexual morality, poverty and the deprivation of women are repeatedly broached upon, as is the growing Spanish resistance against the horrors of fascism.

Opposition to contraception by the Church and society’s prohibition of married women from holding professional jobs are issues that raise the passions of Annie and her friend Tess, who determine to use their voices and their skills to promote more liberal values and improve the conditions of poor and maltreated women.

Annie returns home, gives birth to an illegitimate son, and looks like marrying a surprising man. I have the feeling – and I hope – the series will continue.

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