Book review: Book captures fragility of family in Alaska wilderness
February 15, 2018
“The Great Alone”
by Kristin Hannah
"Alaska doesn't create character, it reveals it."
Kristin Hannah's best-selling novel “The Nightingale” is one of my all time favorite books. I was thrilled when her new book was given to me. There is no doubt in my mind that “The Great Alone” will find its way to the bestseller table.
The wilds of Alaska in the ’70s is the setting of this story. Hannah describes the simple yet rugged life style in this pristine land, as if you were there. The close knit and isolated communities work together, becoming as close as families, supporting each other in order to survive the harshness of the land.
The story begins when Ernt Allbright, returning from the Vietnam War after enduring time as a POW, persuades his wife Cora and 13-year-old daughter, Leni, to move to the wilds of Alaska. This was Ernt's way of running away from the turbulent ’70s in the lower states, filled with protests, marches, kidnappings and bombings, a world which was toxic to Ernt.
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With an "Alaska or Bust" sign taped to their van, the Allbrights set off for Alaska, full of hope. They settle in the remote Alaskan community of Kaneq, 30 residents strong, a tight community who took care of each other and understood that "fear is common sense."
It did not concern the Allbright's that their home was a shack lacking the modern conveniences of electricity and running water. This was their escape. Unfortunately, they did not realize they were joining a community that was on the brink of change. This was not what the Allbright's expected, and they are now faced with a complex dilemma.
In some ways, it's difficult to be an outsider in a community with strong ties, and in the midst of change it's difficult to know where you fit in. The Allbright's arrived full of hope for what used to be while the small community in which they lived was moving forward with hope for what can be.
Worse than the harsh Alaskan weather and isolation was the confinement it caused. It only revealed the darkness in Ernt's life. He became controlling in a paranoid way; his capacity for love appeared to have been destroyed by his experiences in the Vietnam War.
Cora and Leni found themselves walking on thin ice during Ernt's winter-lasting dark moods. The Allbright family became fragile as they took turns being strong for each other.
The story Hannah tells is powerful, insightful. One can feel the traumatized life the Allbright's are living and watch them become damaged souls. Author Hannah eloquently describes PTSD before the term was coined, in an era which did not understand how war can break the strongest of minds and thus, provide no acknowledgement nor help for the suffering families.
This heart wrenching-story of a family in crisis and a community on the brink of change gives the reader the pause to contemplate Hannah's opinion, "Love and fear are the most destructive forces on Earth."
This title is available at Off the Beaten Path bookstore and Bud Werner Memorial Library.
Virgie DeNucci is a bookseller at Off the Beaten Path.