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Universal language;Books;Curriculum

GEALACH AN ABACHAIDH. by Angus Peter Campbell. Acair. ISBN 0 86152 217 6. pound;6.99



Leis an da fhacal bheag sin, thachair Anna agus Iain airson a'chiad uair.

This novel opens with the most effortless couple of lines I've read in a long time and moves on in that groove with the pace and cadence of a good middle-distance specialist. It is a fresh and sunny work of fiction, in terms of content, style and language.

Gealach an Abachaidh was commissioned by Acair for use with pupils in the senior school, approaching or during the Higher stage. The brief was that of a modern novel, and Acair could have had no better author than Angus Peter Campbell to articulate the Gaelic world (and word) for Gaelic teenagers at the end of the 20th century.

It is yet another testimony to how things Gaelic have changed so dramatically in the past few years, and the extent to which Gaelic can now stand in the wider world without embarrassment or compromise. Gone is the dour and wooden literature of yesteryear - the grey words of educational orientation that pulled the language downward when the literature of the mainstream had long since shed its dead skin to embrace imagination, sparkle and creativity.

This is a simple tale of everyday teenagers, but you would not expect Angus Peter to pander to the linguistic requirements of the establishment and leave it at that. This story hits the mark, right at the heart of youngsters in a modern world as they negotiate their way through the minefields of adolescence - in this case young Gaels in the Gaidhealtachd.

Six classmates leave the Highlands along with two teachers on an educational visit to Europe. Their journey of discovery takes them from art galleries to football stadiums; from the Vatican to Auschwitz. In Amsterdam they come in contact with an intriguing character: a former Dutch Resistance worker who happens to be a fluent Gaelic speaker.

The central characters, Anna, bright-eyed and eager to embrace life and art; Iain, the cynic and rebel, are drawn together in a burgeoning relationship.

From then on it's a universal story. Boy meets girls; horizons widen; girl falls pregnant; decisions and choices have to be made.

There are also sub-texts and interesting tangents, and questions are asked of the reader, but esentially the charm of the story lies in its simplicity, and it is driven as much by humour as by social comment.

It pulls no punches when it comes to issues long swept under the lino in Gaelic homes, such as alcoholism, domestic violence, teenage pregnancy and abortion, and young people will find it immensely helpful in dealing with their young lives, and confronting their dilemmas.

The young people at whom the book is targeted will identify strongly with the content. They are, after all, part of the story and Angus Peter is truly speaking their language, which is not too complex, even for advanced learners. The book certainly brought this 40-something back to the Clearasil for a few hours. My only complaint was its brevity. I would have liked to see some of the book's minor characters developed a bit more, but all in all, as Anna herself would say: "Bha e d reach cool."

Calum MacDonald is songwriter and member of the band Runrig

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