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Andrew David MacDonald Books In Order

Publication Order of Standalone Novels

When We Were Vikings (2020)Hardcover  Paperback  Kindle

Andrew David MacDonald is a Canadian author who came into prominence with the publishing of the novel “When We Were Vikings.” MacDonald grew up in Edmonton Canada and asserted that he was always interested in storytelling from a very young age. He went to the University of Massachusetts in Amherst, where he studied in the Program for Writers and Poets graduating with an MFA. He made the shortlist for the Canadian National Magazine Award for Fiction, was the winner of the Western Magazine Award for Fiction. His short fiction has been in the Journey Prize Stories anthologies that featured the best work from emerging authors. He likes to say that he started out as a closet author before he became a closet jock that writes. “The World According to Garp” by John Irving was the first novel that made him cry.

Andrew MacDonald writes a perfectly paced and well-crafted novel that he developed from a short story. He had written his short story using the voice of the character that would become the lead character Gert. While he thought he was writing about people he did not know about, he came to realize that there was a lot to the story that was related to his own life. Gert the lead is taking care of Zelda by making huge sacrifices which mirrors MacDonald’s own resentments towards a family member that he and his brother had to take care of when they were teenagers. He has never liked to write about his own life and even when he did he never did it explicitly. As such, he found surprising that his internal world was reflected in a narrative that at first looked so foreign. From this point, he started analyzing his lead characters Gert and Zelda. Could they be any close to finding acceptance and love, achieving their dreams and hopes in the world? It was from the answers, the bits, and pieces that he developed Zelda’s voice and developed his novel “When We Were Vikings.”

Zelda the lead character of the novel feels completely real as she transcends the page. MacDonald asserts that she felt that a person’s idiom is often a reflection of their personality. Using Zelda’s linguistic quirks and her love for the Viking culture, which she uses to understand the world, he sets out to discover the lead character’s private languages. In learning to take part in and speak Zelda’s language, readers will feel like members of the tribe or at least active participants in her story. While the author was not particularly interested in Viking culture, over the course of the novel his interest grew organically that it became one of his interests. MacDonald’s research was just as organic though he had a little bit of understanding about the Vikings. Just like most persons, he knew just a little and as he was writing the novel he researched and came to learn as he went on a journey with the lead character Zelda. Coincidentally, once he was done with the first draft, he learned that a female Viking warrior has just been found by archeologists and he included this in his novel.

The lead in “When We Were Vikings” is Zelda, a twenty-one-year-old girl obsessed with Vikings. She draws inspiration from Viking folklore and is living her life with loyalty and courage to her tribe, and writing her own legend. She was unfortunate to have fetal alcohol syndrome spectrum, which means that unlike regular people she has to study things, follow rules and take things more thoroughly. While she can take care of herself to some degree, her heavily tattooed, shaven and thug-like brother Gert takes care of both of them. He has been doing it since their mother died and even extracted her from the custody of an abusive uncle. Alongside Zelda is a remarkable cast of characters who come along in the coming of age story. Gert her brother is not beneath doing some questionable things to support both of them in a neighborhood known for trouble and violence. It has a meaningful, heartfelt and beautiful story though the ending is not as traditional as one would expect. Macdonald presents some hard truths about people by showing that people are just trying to make the best of their circumstances. They are not just good or bad but people trying their best even if they do not always succeed.

“When We Were Vikings” opens with an introduction to Zelda, a woman with cognitive disabilities. She is inspired by Viking legends and is ready to stand up for her brother who is involved with drug dealers. Zelda may have some mental disability but she is clever enough to know that she is not like some other people given that she suffers from fetal alcohol syndrome. She has heard all the muttered slurs, unkind glances but all she wants is love acceptance and some independence to live her life as she likes just like any other 21 year old. She is also looking for a sword since she has an obsession with the Vikings including their courage in the face of danger, their fierce loyalty, and their legends. Just like the Vikings, the tribe is her source of strength and hence Gert and his girlfriend nicknamed AK47 are critical in helping her cope. She also depends on her boyfriend Marxy, her friends at the community center and her helpful therapist. Marxy is a terrible kisser but Zelda is curious about sex and he seems like the perfect candidate to try it out with. When her brother is involved with dangerous gangsters and struggles in paying their bills, Zelda is determined to help him regardless of the cost. She reasons that Viking legends always portray a hero smaller than the villain and hence she is confident that she can win. MacDonald does a good job skillfully balancing violence and drama while asserting that one can still have family no matter how unorthodox it may seem. He analyzes the issues that the disabled have to face including independence, employment, and sexuality without being condescending. In Zelda he creates an inspiring and entertaining character with a distinctive voice.

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