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The Snow Child: A Novel Hardcover – February 1, 2012
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Amazon Best Books of the Month, February 2012: In her haunting, evocative debut Eowyn Ivey stakes her claim on a Russian fairy tale, daring the reader--and the characters--to be lulled into thinking they know the ending. But, as with the Alaskan wilderness, there’s far more here than meets the eye. On the surface it’s the story of a childless pioneer couple running from their East Coast lives and struggling to survive in the harshest of climates while also attempting to reconnect with each other; but it’s also the story of the spring of hope that bubbles out of new friendships, of the slow realization of love for a surrogate child, of the ties between man and nature. Ivey spares no words in describing the beauty and the danger of her native Alaska, bringing the sheer magnitude of the wilderness alive on every page. With the transparent prose of a fairy tale and descriptions to put nature writing to shame, The Snow Child immerses readers in a 1920s Alaska that will draw them back again and again. -- Malissa Kent
"If Willa Cather and Gabriel Garcia Marquez had collaborated on a book, THE SNOW CHILD would be it. It is a remarkable accomplishment -- a combination of the most delicate, ethereal, fairytale magic and the harsh realities of homesteading in the Alaskan wilderness in 1918. Stunningly conceived, beautifully told, this story has the intricate fragility of a snowflake and the natural honesty of the dirt beneath your feet, the unnerving reality of a dream in the night. It fascinates, it touches the heart. It gallops along even as it takes time to pause at the wonder of life and the world in which we live. And it will stir you up and stay with you for a long, long time."―Robert Goolrick, New York Times bestselling author of A Reliable Wife
"THE SNOW CHILD is enchanting from beginning to end. Ivey breathes life into an old tale and makes it as fresh as the season' s first snow. Simply lovely."―Keith Donohue, New York Times bestselling author of The Stolen Child
"A transporting tale . . . an amazing achievement."―Sena Jeter Naslund, New York Times bestselling author of Ahab's Wife
"THE SNOW CHILD is a vivid story of isolation and hope on the Alaska frontier, a narrative of struggle with the elements and the elemental conflict between one's inner demons and dreams, and the miracle of human connection and community in a spectacular, dangerous world. You will not soon forget this story of learning to accept the gifts that fate and love can bring." ―Robert Morgan, author of Gap Creek
"Eowyn Ivey's exquisite debut transports the reader away to a world almost out of time, into a fairytale destined to both chill and delight. Her portrayal of an untamed Alaska is so detailed you can feel the snowflakes on your own eyelashes, even as her characters' desperate quest for, and ultimate redemption by, love will warm your heart."―Melanie Benjamin, author of Alice I Have Been
"Magical, yes, but THE SNOW CHILD is also satisfyingly realistic in its depiction of 1920s homestead-era Alaska and the people who settled there, including an older couple bound together by resilient love. Eowyn Ivey's poignant debut novel grabbed me from the very first pages and made me wish we had more genre-defying Alaska novels like this one. Inspired by a fairy tale, it nonetheless contains more depth and truth than so many books set in this land of extremes."―Andromeda Romano-Lax, author of The Spanish Bow
"This book is real magic, shot through from cover to cover with the cold, wild beauty of the Alaskan frontier. Eowyn Ivey writes with all the captivating delicacy of the snowfalls she so beautifully describes."―Ali Shaw, author of The Girl with Glass Feet
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Mabel and Jack are homesteaders who come to Alaska rather late in their lives. They are both close to fifty years old when they begin their Alaskan venture near the Wolverine river way in the backcountry. The story opens with Mabel contemplating suicide. She describes Alaska after her failed suicide attempt as a place of "beauty that ripped you open and scoured you clean so that you were left helpless and exposed, if you lived at all". She and Jack are growing apart rather than closer and she misses him desperately. Slowly, they become friends with their closest neighbors, Esther and George, and this helps Mabel some. However, she says of Jack, "they were going to be partners, she and Jack. This was going to be their new life together. Now he sat laughing with strangers when he hadn't smiled at her in years".
Mabel comes from an intellectual family - her father is a professor of literature at the University of Pennsylvania. She feels lonely and empty in her cabin. Just before they came to Alaska she gave birth to a stillborn boy. This was one of the primary reasons she wanted to get away from her family. She felt they were always looking at her and judging her as wanting, talking about her as not being a strong woman. Jack is busy with clearing and farming the homestead and he won't let Mabel help with this. He sees her job as staying in the house to cook, clean and bake her pies. They are barely making ends meet and Jack is contemplating taking a part-time job in a mine next year. Their situation is dire.
The wilderness is described in an awe-inspiring ferocity of beauty and fear. "Wherever the work stopped, the wilderness was there, older, fiercer, stronger than any man could ever hope to be. The spindly black spruce were so dense in places you couldn't squeeze an arm between them, and every living thing seemed barbed and hostile." "Alaska gave up nothing easily. It was lean and wild and indifferent to a man's struggle." Alaska's beauty is also described wonderfully - the northern lights, the wild animals, the rivers, waterfalls, snowfalls and alpenglow. "Maybe that was how a man held up his end of the bargain, by learning and taking into his heart this strange wilderness - guarded and naked, violent and meek, tremulous in its greatness."
The work is too hard for Jack and Mabel is suffering from cabin fever. One night, however, in a lightness of spirit, they decide to build a snow child. It turns out to be a girl with a lovely face, blond hair, blue eyes and chiseled lovely features. Mabel gives it mittens and a scarf as well. Shortly after building the snow child, they begin to see a child darting in and out of the trees. The snow child they built has disappeared and the child they see running around is wearing the same clothes as their snow child had been given. Is she real or is it a hallucinatory figment of cabin fever and overwork? Mabel and Jack see the child, follow her footprints in the snow and even get to meet her. However, no one else has ever seen her and there is no other family living near them with a girl child. Where has she come from and where does she live?
The story loosely follows the metaphorical fairy tale of The Snow Child, Mabel's favorite story from childhood. However, Mabel is fearful of the story's outcome and does not want to look at the coincidences too closely. The girl they meet is named Faina - Fay-ee-na. They begin to grow close to her and their lives change. "Mabel was no longer sure of the child's age. She seemed both newly born and as old as the mountains, her eyes animated with unspoken thoughts, her face impassive. Here with the child in the trees, all things seemed possible and true."
This is a life-affirming book, one that is close to the heart. It is never silly or maudlin. The writing is rich and lyrical, the characterizations full and complete with each person known and mysterious at the same time. We follow each of them through joys and sorrow. In many ways this is a book of perfection, one that is consummate and incomparable to any other I have ever read. I know it will live on in me and that I will have to re-read it. Thank you Ms. Ivey for bringing me back to Alaska through your eyes. What a wonderful way to see this world.