Although I said in my challenge criteria that I wasn’t going to go in any particular order, I began doing a little research in alphabetical order and got excited about several of the books I discovered for Alaska (sorry Alabama – I’ll get back to you!).
Alaska is the only state in the US that I have not visited, though it is one I have dreamed of visiting for many years. My father investigated the possibility of driving to Alaska on one of our cross-country camping trips back in the 1970s and 1980s, but reluctantly decided against it. It’s our largest state, and the one with the largest number of National Parks (a factor, I’m sure, in Dad’s desire to visit – mine too). I know Dad would also have been interested in learning more about the various Alaskan Native Americans, including the Aleuts, who feature in two of my book choices for the state.
Aleutian Sparrow by Karen Hesse (2003) – a fictionalized first-hand account of the experiences of an Aleutian Islander relocated by the United States government in response to the Japanese invasion of the islands during World War II, told in poetry vignettes.
And She Was by Cindy Dyson (2006) – intertwines the stories of Brandy – a 1980’s drifter who winds up on Unalaska Island, searching for herself – and a 250-year-old secret involving a broken taboo and the history of the Aleutian people. Book club discussion selection. See main post for links to discussion topics.
Ordinary Wolves by Seth Kantner (2004) – The publisher’s summary on Goodreads says, “Jeered and pummeled by native children because he is white, Cutuk becomes a marginal participant in village life, caught between cultures. After an accident for which he is responsible, he faces a decision that could radically change his life.” This sounds like an ideal choice for my challenge.
Drop City by T.C. Boyle (2003) – If Ordinary Wolves doesn’t work out, this is my backup choice. A 1970s commune relocates from California to the wilds of Alaska only to find a community of homesteaders already there, and the two groups clash. This is definitely a lighter choice, but I suspect the change in setting, plus the conflict between the two groups, should make the location important enough to satisfy my criteria. Drop City has turned out to be a bust. I may keep reading to see if it improves once the commune moves to Alaska, but I’m really struggling to get into this one.
UPDATE – New Book Picks for Alaska
To the Bright Edge of the World by Eowyn Ivey (2016) – tells the story of a Lewis & Clark-type expedition to explore up the (imaginary) Wolverine River into the interior of Alaska. The story is told through journal entries from the expedition leader and his wife, an amateur naturalist, who is to accompany them as far as Sitka, as well as official reports, newspaper clippings, photos, letters, artifact descriptions, and other documents. Although the expedition is a primary focus, the relationship between the expedition leader and his pregnant wife is also a major storyline. (Note that Sophie actually stays behind at Vancouver Barracks army base in Vancouver, Washington.)
The Alaskan Laundry by Brendan Jones (2016) – uses the metaphor of “a state in continual wash cycle – everyone coming north to get clean of their past” to describe Alaska, and, of course, it’s also true of the protagonist, who leaves Philadelphia and comes to live on a tugboat in an Alaskan fishing village.
- Note – The Wolverine River, from To the Bright Edge of the World, is not a real river in Alaska, but the wonderful map drawn by Ruth Hulbert to accompany the novel places it (very, very roughly) where I’ve marked it here.