Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Review: The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah

Alaska, 1974. 
Unpredictable. 
Unforgiving. 
Untamed. 

For a family in crisis, the ultimate test of survival. Ernt Allbright, a former POW, comes home from the Vietnam war a changed and volatile man. When he loses yet another job, he makes an impulsive decision: he will move his family north, to Alaska, where they will live off the grid in America’s last true frontier.

 Thirteen-year-old Leni, a girl coming of age in a tumultuous time, caught in the riptide of her parents’ passionate, stormy relationship, dares to hope that a new land will lead to a better future for her family. She is desperate for a place to belong. Her mother, Cora, will do anything and go anywhere for the man she loves, even if means following him into the unknown.

 At first, Alaska seems to be the answer to their prayers. In a wild, remote corner of the state, they find a fiercely independent community of strong men and even stronger women. The long, sunlit days and the generosity of the locals make up for the Allbrights’ lack of preparation and dwindling resources.

 But as winter approaches and darkness descends on Alaska, Ernt’s fragile mental state deteriorates and the family begins to fracture. Soon the perils outside pale in comparison to threats from within. In their small cabin, covered in snow, blanketed in eighteen hours of night, Leni and her mother learn the terrible truth: they are on their own. In the wild, there is no one to save them but themselves.

 In this unforgettable portrait of human frailty and resilience, Kristin Hannah reveals the indomitable character of the modern American pioneer and the spirit of a vanishing Alaska—a place of incomparable beauty and danger. The Great Alone is a daring, beautiful, stay-up-all-night story about love and loss, the fight for survival, and the wildness that lives in both man and nature.

 Kindle Edition, 448 pages
 Expected publication: February 6th 2018
 by St. Martin's Press
*****
One thing every child of a POW knew was how easily people could be broken.”
My only experience with Kristin Hannah was with The Nightingale, I believe it was her first venture into historical fiction - it made my best of 2015 list.  (My review can be found here). When I saw The Great Alone was coming out I jumped at the chance. Having visited Alaska on a cruise once it wasn’t hard for me to visualize so much of the landscape with its remoteness, harsh weather element as well as beautiful scenery.

What I loved about this book, other than the location was the time period.  The lack of modern electronics was a plus for me. With virtually an untamed landscape, it was a time when cruises and tour groups were sparse.

I appreciate the research that went into this book.  It wasn’t just the landscape with vivid descriptions of the various seasons but what the residents endured, the struggles of 18 hours of daylight and 18 hours of darkness. Even those not suffering from PTSD had to find ways to cope.  The author put me in those scenes of darkness and despair as well as appreciate the beauty of Mother Nature.

The synopsis above does a great job outlining this wonderful book. The Great Alone opened my eyes and gave me a clearer view of PTSD, it helped me to understand this condition and see how Ernt would grasp at anything for a new beginning.  But Alaska back in that time, where authority is scarce and limited phone service is asking for trouble, he was so focused on himself and the present forgetting to look ahead.
“He needs a chance. A new start. We all do. Maybe Alaska                                  is the answer.”
Leni is great character, she misses so much of her childhood, forced to grow up before her time and along with her mother live a life walking on egg shells. Getting inside her head, feeling the raw emotions of this young girl had me connecting right from the first pages. This is a capivating coming of age story, it was a pleasure to read and hard to put down. 

They are many layers to The Great Alone, a story of survival, heartache and challenges. It is one of those books that will stay with me for a long time.

This was one of my last books of 2017, making my ‘best of 2017’ list.  Many thanks to St Martin’s Press (via Netgalley) for and advanced copy.