A bewitching tale of heartbreak and hope set in 1920s Alaska. Jack and Mabel have staked everything on making a fresh start for themselves in a homestead 'at the world's edge' in the raw Alaskan wilderness. But as the days grow shorter, Jack is losing his battle to clear the land, and Mabel can no longer contain her grief for the baby she lost many years before. The evening the first snow falls, their mood unaccountably changes. In a moment of tenderness, the pair are surprised to find themselves building a snowman - or ...
A bewitching tale of heartbreak and hope set in 1920s Alaska. Jack and Mabel have staked everything on making a fresh start for themselves in a homestead 'at the world's edge' in the raw Alaskan wilderness. But as the days grow shorter, Jack is losing his battle to clear the land, and Mabel can no longer contain her grief for the baby she lost many years before. The evening the first snow falls, their mood unaccountably changes. In a moment of tenderness, the pair are surprised to find themselves building a snowman - or rather a snow girl - together. The next morning, all trace of her has disappeared, and Jack can't quite shake the notion that he glimpsed a small figure - a child? - running through the spruce trees in the dawn light. And how to explain the little but very human tracks Mabel finds at the edge of their property? Written with the clarity and vividness of the Russian fairytale from which it takes its inspiration, The Snow Child is an instant classic - the story of a couple who take a child into their hearts, all the while knowing they can never truly call her their own.
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Eowyn Ivey's first novel "The Snow Child" (2012) tells the story of hardy settlers in the territory of Alaska in 1920 leavened with an adaptation of an old Russian fairy tell about a snow man that comes to life. The book explores the wildness of Alaska, the bitter winters, short summers, the rivers, mountains, and wild animals. It explores some of the reasons that motivated Americans to leave their lives in the lower 48 states to try their hand at a difficult new life. The story explores that independence and individualism of the settlers while also showing their efforts at community-building, cooperation, and friendship. The book captures something ethereal, wild, and mystical about the territory in the person of Faina, the snow girl.
The primary characters in the book are Jack and Mabel, in their early 50s, who have left their Pennsylvania home in search of a new life largely because they have no children. Jack and Mabel had different backgrounds. Jack had been a farmer with his family while Mabel was the educated and refined daughter of a professor of literature at the University of Pennsylvania. The couple is haunted by a child they lost at birth. They struggle in their early years as Alaska homesteaders with the hard winter and Mabel contemplates suicide. The couple slowly become friends with another immigrant family, George and Esther Benson, and their three sons, with the youngest, Garrett, 13, playing the most significant role in the story. Much of the realistic portion of the book is about the importance of friendship and working together in order to survive. The book turns to myth in a mysterious young girl, Faina, who lives in the woods and snow by herself but who gradually befriends Jack and Mabel. Faina disappears during the Spring. Much of the book describes the fondness Jack and Mabel develop towards this little winter sprite and about whether she is real or imaginary. Regardless, there is something undeniably preternatural about Faina.
The characters in the book are believable and poignant as the story explores loneliness, the search for love, difficulties in marriage, and setting out for something new. It also plays on themes of wildness -- in terms of Alaska's weather, topography violence, and emptiness and conventionality and settlement, in the life of the pioneers to tame the land and make a success of farming. The story is taken out of the realm of the everyday with the figure of Faina. Romance, mystery, and fate lie at the heart of things, certainly in this novel. Besides the adaptation of a Russian story, I was reminded of a work from a much different milieu -- Truman Capote's urbane little novel "Breakfast at Tiffany's" with its romance and its admonition to "never love a wild thing." America, not only the former territory of Alaska, is a mix of the real and ideal, the pedestrian and the mysterious.
Ivey writes in a simple style which for the most part is effective. The book seems to me overly long and it lags in places. But it does many things well, including the scenes of the wilderness, the young snow girl, and the near-estranged couple that manage to find a bittersweet redemption in the sparsely settled territory. In addition to the folktale like quality of much of the book, I enjoyed how the author was kind to place and characters. The book shows a love of wildness, a love of Alaska as territory and presumably as state, and a sense of people working together while preserving their autonomy. The affection and spirit of the book are inspiring given the polarization which plagues our country.
"The Snow Child" is a touching, poignant book about loneliness and mystery and about one way of pursuing and living out the American dream.
Jun 20, 2013
Stay Up Late Read
This book was recommended by a friend. Second
book based on her reads. I trust her judgment
Apr 11, 2013
A simple way of re-doing an old story. Having experienced land clearance I found this aspect oif it rather implausible, however I enjoyed it.
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