I think I loved this book first because of it's cover. Yes, the cover art made all the difference! The cover is an old black and white photograph of a woman in long skirt, blouse and straw hat fishing on the banks of a wild river.
This is the story of maps, rivers, forests, pioneers and art. The story is set in the wilds of Canada where a family of pioneers owns great tracts of land and forests. They develop an industry around deforestation and supplying logs for the emerging country's cities. Then as the land stabilises they plant barley, which further denudes the landscape until the sand dunes take over the remains of their settlement.
It is the story of a few generations of the family and how they live in this landscape and the family's parallel deterioration as the land is scoured.
Amongst the story of the older generations is the present day family, who tries to understand itself in the light of the past. The story begins with the discovery of a body encased in ice, found by a young man who is photographing the island where the mill was established. Consequently he meets a woman who suffers from Autism (never stated but seems to be the case) who wants to meet the young artist who found her dead lover. As she meets with the young artist she reveals the family's history, the history of the island and the devastation it brought to the family.
I really enjoyed the structure of the book and it's characters. Quite haunting at times, I kept thinking about the story for a long time after I finished reading it.