Author Kristin Hannah has a knack for creating vast sweeping sagas spanning multiple generations in a family’s story. In The Great Alone, Hannah crafts the story of teenager Leni Allbright who is growing up the the Pacific Northwest in the early 1970s. Leni’s father, Ernt, has just returned from the Vietnam War and is struggling with his life back in the United States. Her mother, Cora, attempts to cope as best as humanly possible, but struggles with trying to navigate a new life with her husband and growing daughter. Soon after Ernt returns from the war, he is informed that one of his soldier friends, who was killed in Vietnam, has left him a large swath of land in Alaska. Without much forethought, Ernt announces to his wife and daughter that they are packing their van and heading from Washington state to Alaska.
After arriving in Alaska, the trio quickly realize that living in the wild will not be as easy as they initially thought and they are woefully unprepared. They befriend a group of folks, some Alaska natives and some with the same dreams as they did upon their arrival, to live on their own terms. It soon becomes clear that the scars of war are still affecting Ernt and his mental health continues to deteriorate as the dark and cold winter approaches. Before too long Leni and Cora become isolated, both mentally and physically, by Ernt. When a small dispute arises with the neighbors and escalates, Leni has to choose sides, with possibly treacherous results.
Although the story is set in the 1970s, many of the issues facing the Allbright family align with events that are current in today’s world. The Great Alone isn’t always an easy read and the characters face choices that are part necessary and part catastrophic. In the end, a novel that is well worth the investment.
Welcome Back Online Reading Challengers!
How was your July? Did you find something wonderful about Alaska this month? Surely reading about all that cold and snow helped keep you cool here in Iowa!
I read The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey, a story that is both hopeful and heartbreaking. Set in frontier Alaska where conditions are harsh and homesteading is hard work, The Snow Child is about a middle-aged couple who have come to Alaska for a fresh start. Their only child has died and they are unable to have another. Mabel, struggling with grief is considering killing herself and she and her husband Jack are drifting further and further apart. They are just barely hanging on. One day, impulsively, Jack and Mabel build a snow child and soon after they begin to see glimpses of a small girl in the woods. Who is she? Where did she come from? Is she safe alone in the woods?
Over time Jack and Mabel befriend the girl and welcome her into their home and hearts. She grows into a beautiful young woman, but there is something wild and otherworldly about her, as if she is only here temporarily. What follows is a story about family, both those we are born into and those we create, about surviving sorrow and finding joy again. The land of Alaska plays a big part in this book and is beautifully described – you can almost feel the cold winter winds or see the brilliant sunshine. Ivey is a native Alaskan and her love and respect for the land and wildlife are evident. Based on a traditional Russian fairy tale, this is a lovely, thoughtful book.
Now it’s your turn – what have you read this month?
So, how is reading about the Great White North going for you – have you found anything that has grabbed your attention or made you want to move to Alaska and begin a life of rugged outdoor adventure?
If you’re looking for rugged, wilderness adventure, but prefer to live near running water and grocery stores, check out some of the great movies about Alaska; many of them will have you on the edge of your seat.
Insomnia stars Al Pacino, Robin Williams and Hilary Swank. It follows an LA police detective trying to solve a murder in a small Alaskan town. Already having difficulty sleeping, the never-setting midnight sun of the Alaskan summer wrecks havoc on his mental state until he has trouble telling what is real and what is not.
Into the Wild, directed by Sean Penn and starring Emile Hirsch is an adaptation of Jon Krakauer’s ground-breaking book, the true story of a privileged young man leaving everything behind to live in the Alaskan wilderness with less than successful results.
The Grey, starring Liam Neeson is about a group of men stranded in the winter in the Alaskan wilderness after their small plane crashes. Relentlessly pursued by rogue wolves and battling the elements and their injuries, this is a brutal and suspenseful story.
If you prefer your entertainment a little less terrifying, try The Proposal, starring Sandra Bullock and Ryan Reynolds. Bullock’s character, a high-powered executive, threatened with deportation back to Canada, announces that she is (unknown to him) engaged to her assistant. His price for agreeing is that she travel to his family home in Alaska and see if his relatives accept her. Hilarity ensues. A charming, light-as-air romantic comedy.
Any one of these should help cool you off during this hot Iowa summer. What are you going to watch (or read)?
Hello Fellow Online Challenge Readers!
This month we’re heading north, to Alaska. Just the name conjures up images of a rugged, wild frontier. A land of extremes – in landscape, in weather, in individualism, in wildlife, this beautiful place is full of adventures great and small and has the stories to prove it.
You’ll find a wide range of titles to choose from this month. There are quite a few mysteries set in Alaska, including the Kate Shugak series by Dana Stabanow and the Maxie and Stretch series by Sue Henry. There are also a lot of romances, like, a lot. Maybe all that cold weather is good for snuggling? Check out Fire and Ice by Julie Garwood, Northern Lights by Nora Roberts or Darkness by Karen Robards.
For fiction, consider Michael Chabon’s The Yiddish Policeman’s Union about a (fictional) Jewish state that has been established in Sitka, Alaska after World War II. Protocol Zero by James Abel (also known as Clive Cussler), is a thriller that fans of Michael Crichton will appreciate. To the Bright Edge of the World by Eowyn Ivey is historical fiction set in 1885, told through the letters of a young couple. Or try Jodi Picoult’s The Tenth Circle, a story of revenge set the in the Alaskan bush.
If you prefer non-fiction, you’ve got some great books to look at including Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer about a privileged young man who headed into the wilds of Alaska in an attempt to live off the land, or 81 Days Below Zero by Brian Murphy about a young Army pilot that survived brutal conditions after crash landing in the Arctic in 1943.
I am going to read Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey about a childless couple homesteading in Alaska who, after building a figure out of snow, find a little girl in their woods. It sounds like an intriguing mix of history and magical realism. I’ll let you know how it goes.
Now, what about you – what are you reading this month?
Alaska, with it’s stunning scenery and distance from the continental United States holds a romantic place in the minds of most American’s. There is still wildness there, and vast spaces and untamed land and its people are tough and maybe a bit eccentric. You expect things to be bigger and wilder and more spectacular in Alaska, and usually it delivers.
Today marks the beginning of one of sports more spectacular events, the running of the Iditarod sled dog race which opens with a ceremonial start in downtown Anchorage. Often called the Last Great Race, the Iditarod covers 1150 miles over snowy, rugged terrain across wild Alaska. It is held to commemorate the 1925 life-saving run made by sled dog to deliver serum to avert a diphtheria epidemic in Nome, Alaska. The official site of the race gives you a ringside seat to the spectacle offering streaming video, history of the race, up-to-the minute news, bios of mushers and dogs, an interactive map of the route, a tracker which lists each competitor and their position in the race and weather reports. From start to Red Lantern (the traditional award given to the last finisher) you can join in the excitement of the event from the warmth of your living room.
If you want to find out more about the Iditarod and it’s colorful history, the library has several books on the subject in the 798.8 call number area, including Gary Paulson’s lyrical Winterdance: the fine madness of running the Iditarod.