A Wild and Heavenly Place by Robin Oliveira

Review by Luanne Clark

When author Robin Oliveira was a younger woman, her family vacationed yearly on San Juan Island.

On its most northern tip, Oliveira found the ruins of a gray stone house, much different from the other architecture on the island. She became intrigued with the ruins and tried to research the lonely little cottage’s history. Failing at that, she created her own history of the little house. And that invented history became her latest novel, A Wild and Heavenly Place.

The story begins in Glasgow, Scotland, 1878, with orphan Samuel Fidess, a young man of poverty, and his younger sister. They live from hand to mouth in one of the many tenements in the city, far from the upper crust homes of polite society. Weekly church services are the one place where lives may cross.

It’s at church one week when Samuel first notices Hailey and is captivated. When circumstances allow Samuel to rescue Hailey’s little brother from a carriage accident, he is invited to their mansion for dinner. From those simple beginnings, a love blossoms that will carry both Hailey and Samuel 3,000 miles to the Pacific Northwest and a brand-new Seattle.

The Glasgow bank goes under, bankrupting Hailey’s father, and they are forced to start over again in America. They choose Seattle because the MacIntyre fortune was made in coal mining and the mining in the Pacific Northwest is flourishing. Her departing words to Samuel are, “Remember, Samuel Fidess — Washington Territory. Come as soon as you can.”

Without Hailey, Samuel is bereft. He also realizes that in Scotland, no matter how hard he works and how much he knows, he will never be able to pull himself from his impoverished station in life. And he will never accomplish his dream: Samuel Fidess wants to build ships. So, with his little sister in tow, Samuel makes his slow way to Seattle.

Meanwhile, the MacIntyres have settled in Newcastle, about 18 miles east of Seattle, where the coal mines are booming, but the MacIntyres are no longer the upper crust of society. In America, they are just another immigrant family in which the father is one of many manual laborers and Hailey and her mother must learn all the housekeeping and culinary tasks that had previously been done by servants. Hailey’s mother abandons the family to return to Scotland and Hailey is left to care for her little brother and her father.

When a mine explosion leaves Mr. MacIntyre incapacitated, Hailey is faced with homelessness and starvation. She can’t wait any longer for Samuel, and her only option is to marry the young man who promises to take care of the three of them.

Guess who shows up in Seattle mere days after Hailey has made her fateful decision to marry. It’s our intrepid hero, Samuel Fidess, of course. Finding Hailey married, he begins finding his own way in the young, new, vital Seattle. But their paths continue to cross.

A Wild and Heavenly Place is a love story with all the fear, bravery and challenges of forging a new life in a new place. It’s an American story of tenacity and triumph in a vibrant, new, wide-open country. It’s perfect for the Pacific Northwest reader.