The Loyalist by Edeana Malcolm
Reviewed by Alex Greer
The Loyalists, or the United Empire Loyalists, to use the full term, have long held a mystique and hallowed place in the history of English-speaking Canada. As French Canadians value l’habitant, and Americans take pride in the Jamestown planters and Pilgrim Fathers, so English Canadians value the role of the Loyalists in standing firm in their loyalty to the Crown and settling new wildernesses in the Maritimes and Upper and Lower Canada. The Loyalists have been seen as the first English Canadians. Victoria author Edeana Malcolm, has been inspired to write her historical fiction novel based on a Loyalist ancestor, Michael Eisan.
The Loyalist does not romanticize or attempt to de-construct the lives of the legendary settlers. Michael Eisan, his children and grandchildren, along with his new wife and son, are portrayed by the author as simple country folk with close bonds and the rivalries of a large family. The story is set in Ship Harbour, Nova Scotia in the early 1800s. Michael is a very old landowner and widower who marries a much younger widow, Sarah Lawrence, his third wife and former tenant. Michael is set in his ways, but has a deep heart and concern for Sarah and her young son. Close bonds develop despite the disparity in their ages, and some readers may be reminded of the biblical story of Ruth and Boaz.
Michael Eisan’s many complex characteristics are continually revealed as the story unfolds. He has come originally from Germany, and he often speaks in his Palatine German dialect. His turbulent past in South Caroline during the American Revolution is recounted in dark reminiscences which are interspersed with relatively tranquil scenes in Ship Harbour. Through Michael’s memories in the 1770s, the reader learns more of the internecine nature of the Revolution– quite literally a family feud. One leader on the Patriot side with who Michael clashed was his own brother-in-law. Given how Michael sometimes wakens terrified in the night, some may wonder whether he experienced Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). His main strength was his enduring ability to maintain his principles, and leave South Carolina for Nova Scotia.
The Loyalist will entice readers of historical fiction, especially that of Canadian historical fiction. Michael Eisan’s story may not be entirely similar to that of other Loyalist settlers, but they certainly experienced similar ordeals and remained united by their principles. As many English-speaking Canadians do have someone like Michael on the far reaches of their family trees, they will enjoy learning more of their own history and genealogy by reading The Loyalist.