Sons of the Soil

Written by Lucas Dines
Review by Irene Colthurst

In 1902, Jon Ahmeti is an Albanian living in the Ottoman province of Macedonia, where he works for James MacGregor, the head of the British spy operation in the region.  Ahmeti tries to protect his family amid the emerging conflict as he moves across his homeland.  Sons of the Soil follows multiple players on the many sides of the struggle for control of Macedonia, which is the novel’s weakness as well as its strength.  Dines focuses on introducing and then sustaining so many characters with so many opaque perspectives that the action can be very difficult to follow, even as the effect is realistically “balkanized.”

Because the focus doesn’t stay with any single character long enough, it is hard to care much about anyone in particular, beyond perhaps admiring MacGregor’s skills. This task is made harder by the strong tendency for characters to give the elaborate, well-researched socio-political exposition through their dialogue.  So Lucas Dines’s work is best read as a social novel, showing “Macedonia,” in a sense, as the true main character.  It is hard to say how he could have structured the novel differently to make it more accessible, beyond introducing Jon Ahmeti sooner and staying with his story for longer periods.

Readers interested in Europe prior to the First World War or the history of the Balkans may enjoy the level of detail Dines provides in the novel.