In October 1873, Her Majesty's frigate Intransigent foundered off the Orkney Islands in a storm. Four sailors survived the wreck. They were washed up on the shore of a remote island inhabited only by larch trees, moody turtles, and the inscrutable Frog. This is the story of their desperate battle for survival in that hostile and barren land, as told by the celebrated mystery writer Rosemary Focaccia, author of The Floater in the Grog and other works.

The men found the Frogs to be fleshless, unappetizing, and sour. The turtles were maddeningly shy and diffident; their quiet grace shamed the sailors, who were too embarassed to devour the creatures. When the local megaliths proved indigestible, only the larch remained. For six months, the castaways fed on the leaves, bark, roots, melezitose, tendrils, and manna of the larch. For water they relied on rain, melted snow, and on the sad tears the turtles wept as their ancient haven in the larches gradually vanished into the hungry bellies of the men.

In Focaccia's gripping account, we live through all these hardships and more: The cold, the rain, the futile attempts to produce grog, the internecine bickering, and the agonizing failure to interact productively with the local wildlife. In the end, it was all for naught. The men died as they had lived: Alone, unjustified, uncomprehending, unmourned. The island was virtually denuded for a time, but by the turn of the century the larches had angrily returned. The Frogs and the turtles remained also, and live on to this day in a state of primeval innocence and quiet despair.

The Manna of the Larch, the Ambiguous Antecedent Press, 1949. Original title: Orknier than Thou.

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