I picked this book up because it seemed intriguing, it was a hardback, and it was discounted 70%. The plot was set around the premise of men from the Isle of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides of Scotland going to hunt gugas, or chicks of large sea birds called gannets. It seemed bizarre enough that I thought it was fiction. Turns out, like all great stories, it was not! The men on the port of Ness on Lewis have special permission from the Society of Preservation of Birds to go out on an annual pilgrimage and hunt up to 2000 gugas. It is a tradition that dates back to hundreds of years and is considered sustainable because it keeps the population of these birds under control.
I am not going into whether I think this is wrong or right. To be honest, I don’t have an opinion. If they are delicious and considered a local delicacy, and if there is a cap on the numbers hunted each year, I think it is okay. But the book is a beautiful read. From the history of the islanders that belong to one of the most remote populations of the world to atmospheric descriptions of the Sula Sgeir, it is very well written. Sula Sgeir is the rock to which these men go to hunt. It is on this rock that generations of Ness boys are deemed to have become men, once their first trip is complete. The author himself is a local, and descriptions of the landscape and weather are very nicely written. The men brave inclement weather conditions, the hunt can only be organised at a certain time of the year. The chicks have to be the right age and the window is crucial. Stormy seas and incredibly strong winds do nothing to deter the hardy islanders. And to think that this has gone on for years and year is quite a humbling thing to know about the tenacity of humans.
I read non-fiction after a very long time. But that did not matter because for the most past, the details seemed too far removed from modern times and modern places to be actually thought of as real. It felt like a story. I love reading about other cultures and to think through their minds, to see what they see, in a book, makes me respect the book as a good friend. I do believe that this book is discounted in many stores and online shops so if you think, go for it.