I spent most of my last two weeks on vacation in Alaska. It was lovely: cold and wet and we spent lots of time outside and saw snow and wildlife and learned about native plants and animals.
In Ketchikan, I visited the local bookstore and bought a copy of To The Bright Edge of the World – what better thing to read than a book about the place you are?
We follow two stories in To The Bright Edge of the World: Colonel Allen Forrester and his initial explorations of Alaska for the United States government in the 1880s, and his new wife, Sophie Forrester, who was supposed to go with him until she found out she was pregnant. The book starts out with magical realism: Raven is the trickster god of Alaskan Native culture and features as a character, but the book is also very much grounded in reality.
I like how it captures both the struggle and romanticism of life in cold, barren Alaska. I also like how Sophie, stuck in Vancouver, Washington, changes as a person while her husband is gone.
What’s it about?
The Snow Child is an expanded retelling of a Russian fairytale about a childless older couple who builds a snow girl one wintery night. The snow girl comes to life, but then gets too warm in the spring and she melts. In this version, the older couple is homesteading in Alaska in the 1920s; they are estranged because they’re both bottling up their feelings about the fact that the only child they were ever able to conceive was stillborn. But once their snow girl, Faina, comes to life, they open up as well, with each other and their neighbors. Faina stays several years, disappearing in the summers. She grows up, and you start to think that maybe she’s not magical, maybe she’s just a girl (and then a young woman). Maybe.
Why should you read it?
Look, I almost put The Snow Child down in the first thirty or so pages, the language and symbolism was all about winter == old == death and depression. It was effective and I almost couldn’t take it. But get through that, and you’ll be rewarded with a tale about a family who learns to share their emotions and how to be friendly. They become fuller people through love, which sounds schlocky and sentimental but it’s done delicately and gracefully. The balance with winter white and sparseness and elegance is done well. Overall, a very good book.