John Sayles is probably best known as an independent filmmaker who has been involved in the creation of many notable films. Before he ever worked on movies he published novels. He still writes them when he has the time. His latest one, “Jamie MacGillivray: The Renegade’s Journey,” began life as a screenplay.
The Scottish actor Robert Carlyle recruited Sayles to write the screenplay for a film 20 years ago that was going to tell the story of Jamie MacGillivray. They scouted locations in Scotland and North America but they were never able to raise enough funds to make the movie so the project was shelved.
Sayles, whose films include “Eight Men Out’' and “The Brother from Another Planet,” loved the screenplay he had written. Ultimately he decided to transform it into this massive novel. As the story opens Jamie MacGillivray and his brother Dougal are preparing to do battle on Culloden Moor, the site of the final vanquishment of the Jacobite uprising that attempted the overthrow of English rule over Scotland and install the “pretender” to the British throne, Bonnie Prince Charlie as their king.
Those rebellious Scots went down to ignominious defeat and rebels who were captured got executed or transported into exile and lives of enslavement on distant shores. Jamie was one of the lucky ones who escaped execution. He ends up chained inside the hold of a ship that was on the way to, who knows? Nobody would tell them.
A young woman named Jenny has been consigned to a similar fate and is on board another ship headed for, once again, who knew? Certainly not the captives on board. Jenny ends up on the French island of Martinique in the Caribbean, and becomes an indentured servant.
Jamie arrives in the penal colony of Georgia and is immediately sold into slavery. He ends up slaving away in a horrid bug-infested coastal swamp working under sadistic drunken overseers.
Of course we know that eventually Jamie and Jenny will meet up. We have no idea how this can possibly occur, but we trust this masterful storyteller will find a way to make this happen. Jamie eventually escapes and flees north where he is soon captured by a roving band of native warriors.
Jamie spends time as a slave of the tribe. He’s smart, he learns the tribal language and following a period of proving himself he becomes an adopted member of their group. This particular tribe has been driven from their lands in the east and are now in the Ohio Valley.
White settlers were flooding the region, confiscating native lands, driving tribes further west. This was the prelude to what is known as the French and Indian War. Young George Washington arrives on the scene and Jamie finds himself translating for his adoptive tribe during negotiations.
This reviewer loved reactions Jamie gets whenever English soldiers realize this translator who looked like a native possessed that traitorous Scots accent. The story ends with the final defeat of the French at Quebec. Jamie is taken prisoner again. Then John Sayles gives readers a stunning, sensational ending.
Vick Mickunas of Yellow Springs interviews authors every Saturday at 7 a.m. and on Sundays at 10:30 a.m. on WYSO-FM (91.3). For more information, visit www.wyso.org/programs/book-nook. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.