Saturday, September 17, 2016

To the Bright Edge of the World

Title:  To the Bright Edge of the World
Author:  Eowyn Ivey
Publication Information: Little, Brown and Company. 2016. 432 pages.
ISBN:  0316242853 / 978-0316242851

Book Source:  Reviewed based on a publisher’s galley received through NetGalley

Opening Sentence:  "I warned you I am a stubborn old man."

Favorite Quote:  "But what makes the questions of cultural loss the most uncomfortable, and difficult for me to address, are the inherent definitions built into it. If a group of people is described as existing in a state of loss, it is necessarily therefore lesser, and those that took greater. It's such a limiting and two-dimensional idea. Who defines wealth and success? How can we say this person is valued less or more, is better or worse, because they are a part of one culture or another, and why would we want to?"

Eowyn Ivey's first book The Snow Child is also set in Alaska but based on a Russian folk tale.  I read it and loved it. Be aware that this book is not the same. It is an entirely different story told in an entirely different manner. As I begin this book, I am not so sure because my expectations are high and I expect a certain kind of story. I read on, still not sure if I like the story or format. I keep reading, and then find myself completely engaged in the characters and the story.

As reader, I know a book gets to me and becomes real when I find myself researching online for the history of fictional characters. They sound so real that they must be real. Eowyn Ivey's latest book manages to do just that. Although the idea of the book is loosely based on an actual Alaskan exploration by Lieutenant Henry Tureman Allen, the story is pure fiction. However, even as I research to write this review, the fact that all of it except for the very basic history is fiction still surprises me.

Alaskan history dates back to the Paleolithic period. By the 1700s, the Russians controlled Alaska. In 1867, US Secretary of State William Seward and the US Senate entered into an agreement to purchase Alaska from Russia for a price of $7.2 million. The purchase became known as Seward's Folly for the unknown, unexplored land was though to be of no value. Then came the exploration of this vast wilderness and its indigenous cultures.

This is where this story begins. The year is 1885. Lieutenant Colonel Allen Forrester is a career army man. His current command is to lead a mission to explore the Wolverine River Valley; the objective is to pave the way for explorers and settlers. Accompanying him is a small team, each with his or her own story including the army man looking to escape the horrors he has been part of, the trapper looking to make his fortune, and the strong, independent native woman who joins their troupe. Along the way, realism mixes with mythology in the people they meet and the adventures they encounter. The other side of the story is the home front. Sophie Forrester is the wife who stays home. Not content with the traditional role many women seem to play in her word, she strikes her own path in her friendships and her chosen pastimes. Through the course of the book, each and every character - human or mythological - becomes so completely real.

That, of course, is a testament to the format and to Eowyn Ivey's writing. The entire story is written as original documents - photographs, maps, catalog entries,  newspaper clippings, letters, and journal entries. This approach is immensely successful in this book. The descriptions of the natural world are breathtaking. The incorporation of mythological creatures and beliefs seems like a continuation of reality and fits in the with the surroundings even as it remains mysterious and unexplained to the end. The human characters are flawed and believable. The plot itself is part history, part action, part myth, and part love story. The beautiful thing is that all these parts come together to form a cohesive and memorable story that feels so completely real.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

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