An Island in Time: The Biography of a Village, By Geert Mak

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The Independent Culture

Townies such as myself are not always sympathetic to the changing ways of the countryside. My grandmother's reminiscences of her rural upbringing used to amaze and horrify her molly-coddled grandchildren, and the reality of a five-mile walk in the snow to school or days' old porridge kept in a drawer sits uneasily alongside nostalgia for horse-drawn ploughs and the sound of cowbells. Elizabeth Gaskell argued that poverty in the country was worse than poverty in the city, and Geert Mak's account of the time he spent back in the Dutch village where he grew up does not skimp on detail about the hardship of farming in days gone by, either.

What he regrets is the loss of the connection between people and the land due to the increasing use of technology. He is aware that the situation is complicated: it is older villagers who want change and the "imports" who want to preserve things as they always were. Mak is goodon the pulse of the village, its ebb and flow as people come and go, but running throughout the book is a genuine anger that this is a meritorious way of life we are too eager to dismiss.