Alaska. The last frontier. Adventure. Beauty. Wilderness. A state of mind.
It’s on my bucket list. And I’m sure I’m not alone. An entire cruise and adventuring industry has evolved because there is money to be made off the public’s desire to experience this exotic northern locale from the safe distance of a vacation.
But it obviously takes a hardier lot to homestead it.
When Kristin Hannah followed up her smash hit historical novel, THE NIGHTINGALE, with a novel set in 1970’s Alaska, I knew I had to get my hands on it. Especially after reading that Hannah wanted to make sure her followup to NIGHTINGALE was something really special.
Let me set out by saying Kristin Hannah accomplished her goal. This book is that and so much more.
Title is linked to Amazon and there are no spoilers ahead:
THE GREAT ALONE, Kristin Hannah. St. Martin’s Press, New York. First Edition edition February 6, 2018. 448 pages.
When Vietnam War POW Ernt Allbright returns home to Washington State in 1974, his beautiful wife Cora is waiting for him with open arms.
She’s still madly in love with him–it’s been years and they’ve been apart too long. But ever since she became Ernt’s sixteen-year-old bride, she’s only had eyes for him.
The two enjoyed a passionate love, and it wasn’t long until daughter Leni came along. And baby made three. At least until Vietnam. Ernt had to go do his patriotic duty.
When Ernt finally came home, daughter Leni is thirteen and miserable. She’s bounced from school to school, hasn’t been able to establish important friendships–doesn’t even know her own grandparents.
And then her father loses his job and decides to uproot the family yet again. He’s been given a patch of land in Alaska that belonged to his soldier-friend who never made it home from the war.
This is the spark that lights the fire.
Ernt has big dreams of living off the land, off the grid, and off of love–since he’s got little else.
The family ventures to Alaska in a decrepit VW bus. When they arrive at their destination, they find a small but helpful band of misfits who have also left life in the lower 48.
Thankfully, they take the Allbright family under their tutelage and help them create their homestead–help them prepare for winter.
Winter. A word the seasoned Alaskans speak with the same healthy fear a Japanese teenager might utter, Godzilla. It can be deadly, after all. One false step in an Alaskan winter and you’re dead. Game over.
To this point, Ernt has been the focus, but this story is really thirteen-year-old Leni’s. When she arrives at the one-room school in town, she meets Matthew who immediately becomes her best friend.
The relationship between Leni and Matthew is central to the story as it spans the next decade or so.
But when that first winter hits, Ernt starts to lose it. He believes the world is going to end and the government is evil and if the nukes don’t get ya, then biological weapons will. And he resents the richest landowner in the area–who happens to be Matthew’s father. He’s wickedly jealous of any attention his pretty wife receives–even though she’s only got eyes for Ernt.
Ernt forbids his daughter to spend time with Matthew and tries to isolate his little family from everyone with whom he disagrees. Which is just about everybody.
And suddenly the little cabin in the great northern wilderness begins closing in on them…
If Leni and Cora are going to make it out alive, they’re going to have to dig deep within themselves to make it through the eighteen hour nights of an Alaskan winter.
Kristin Hannah develops a number of different love stories in this magnificent book. There’s the damaged marriage between Ernt and Cora, fraught with violence and jealousy, and yet neither can live without the other.
Contrasted with this dark relationship is the selfless love between Leni and Matthew. This is a 1970’s coming-of-age forbidden-love story that is pure and true.
Love between mother and daughter is also fully explored and realized here. And then the love between neighbors is developed in such a beautiful manner–there really are people out there who care for others and have no personal agendas behind their acts of kindness.
This book will grab you by the heartstrings and will keep hold of you. I couldn’t put it down. I cried. I laughed. I cheered. And I kept turning pages.
This is also a raw portrait of heroic women and men in an unforgiving yet compelling landscape.
There’s a reason Alaska is called The Great Alone.
I wholeheartedly recommend this book to anyone who craves adventures from the safety of their own easy chair. But pack plenty of tissues…you will need them.
Foxy Rating Guide: Five out of Five Foxes – This one’s a keeper!