Tag Archives: historical fiction

The Snow Child, by Eowyn Ivey

The Snow Child

By Eowyn Ivey

Reagan Arthur/Little Brown, 2011

389 pages

Alaska, the 1920s. After giving birth to a stillborn baby, Jack and Mabel leave the comfort of Pennsylvania to become homesteaders near the Wolverine River, Alaska, where their lives turn to the magical. The book begins with the arrival of winter and at the same time, the hotel in the closest town, which has been buying pies from Mabel, cuts off their order, leaving them to survive off the land. As the Wolverine River starts to freeze over, and Jack and Mabel wonder if they have enough food for the long winter, they meet a young girl in the woods—their snow child.

This book is exquisitely rendered. The story is small, with most of the action happening near or around Jack and Mabel’s cabin. The only other characters are the snow child, Faina, and the Benson family, who live a few miles up the road, but the story is expansive and moving. Jack and Mabel are a middle-aged couple who, after living through tragedy, reinvent themselves and their love for each other in this new world. The first 200 pages cover their first winter in Alaska, when they struggle to make ends meet. But then the abundance of summer arrives and they see the land where they have relocated anew.

This book is as much an homage to life in an Alaskan cabin as it is to the story it tells. Ivey lives a subsistence life with her husband and children. They haul water to their home weekly. I felt her closeness to the land in every page.

I can’t say I would love to live in an Alaskan cabin, but I loved this book.

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The Lifeboat, by Charlotte Rogan

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The Lifeboat, By Charlotte Rogan

Reagan Arthur/Little, Brown and Co, 2012

288 pages

After Grace Winter is rescued from a lifeboat, in which she spent 21 days floating in the Atlantic Ocean, she is arrested, along with two other women, for attempted murder. The year is 1914. Grace and her newlywed husband, Henry, were travelling fist class passage from London to New York when their ocean liner, the Empress Alexandra, suffered an unexplained explosion and fire. In the chaos of the evacuation Henry makes sure Grace gets into a lifeboat. She does not know his fate while she spends 21 days at sea with 38 other survivors.

I don’t usually pick up historical fiction, but I found this premise intriguging and I was completely engaged by this book. It is a literary pageturner. The story, told from a close first person point-of-view, chronicles the survival on the lifeboat—the initial attempt to flee the fiery boat; hopes of rescue; the leadership of John Hardie, the only crew member on the boat; the dwindling food supplies; and the wearing damp crowded conditions—while also telling the story of how Grace got on the boat and what her hopes had been for life in New York with her new husband. Drama builds as the days at sea add up and tensions rise. The story explores class and gender differences of the time as some of the women in the boat begin to disagree with the survivalist choices made by the men. The writing is engaging and personal.

The author’s story is also intriguing. The NYTs wrote that Rogan signed her book contract right after her 57th b’day.

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