Rona McPherson, a newly divorced woman in present-day Aberdeen, uncovers in her attic the dusty old diary of a young man, Hugh Ross. Through the beautifully crafted changes in Hugh’s language and view of the world as his life expands into new experiences and new continents, the diary allows us an unusually intense and intimate insight into the world of an emigrant crofter in the late nineteenth century.
Hugh’s story begins on a croft in the far north of Scotland. Inspired by the arrival of a new, modern-thinking minister, Hugh and his two best friends make the fateful decision to cross to the other side of the world and begin a new life in America. His life lurches from crisis to crisis: the shocking voyage on the Lady Grey; his arrival in the Canadian port town of Pictou; his grim, dark days in Chicago; his journey west to the ruthless thriving Californian gold-mining town where he loses what innocence he had left. And then Hugh joins the American army in Fort Tejon – where he hopes, finally, to be reunited with the girl he was in love with before he left home so many years before. At the final turn of the page, we discover just how Hugh and Rona’s stories are so inextricably linked, how we can never escape our past, and how our ancestors are as much a part of us as those who people our daily lives.