Monday, November 13, 2006

A literary guide to Alaska

Seth Kantner, a contender for author of The Great Alaska Novel, wrote Salon's literary guide to Alaska.

Kantner's essay is itself a delight, and it is rich with recommendations for further reading.

Here is but one of his suggestions:

John Taliaferro's In a Far Country (subtitle: "The true story of a mission, a marriage, and the remarkable reindeer rescue of 1898"), which will be published at the end of this month, is a tale of whalers and missionaries, a murder and a midwinter reindeer drive/rescue across the Alaskan Arctic in the 1890s. Sound like fiction? This book is true, all of it somehow sifted from diaries and historical accounts. And it's a hard one to put down.

The story begins in January at Cape Prince of Wales on the Alaskan side of the Bering Strait; Siberia is a seam across the western horizon. Missionary Tom Lopp is asked to lead a rescue north to Barrow. The trail through this narrative leads the reader to people whose names are legend along these coastlines -- we see the renowned Charles Brower (of the autobiography Fifty Years Below Zero) in all his prowess on the ice off Barrow; Captain Michael Healy of the U.S. Revenue Cutter Bear, whose word was law in the Northwest Arctic. We smell the low igloos and sack holsters of fermented urine used to attract reindeer, hear the frenzy of attacking packs of dogs.

This story of Alaska Territory is incredibly well written -- authentic, informative and exciting. When I gave my manuscript copy to an elder who has lived in tents and cabins in the Igichuk Hills for half a century we both marveled, how could this middle-aged writer from Texas know the taste of cold, the feeling of weeks of wind, the smell of caribou hides?

Click here to read the rest of Kantner's literary guide to Alaska.

Commercial fisherman and author Seth Kantner was born and raised in the wilderness of the Brooks Range. He is author of the novel Ordinary Wolves, which won the Milkweed National Fiction Prize and the Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association Award. Kantner is also a Whiting Award winner.

Other items in Salon's literary guide series include:
A literary guide to Washington, D.C.
A literary guide to Vancouver
A literary guide to Baltimore
A literary guide to Argentina
A literary guide to Afghanistan
A literary guide to Louisiana
A literary guide to Australia
A literary guide to Norway
A literary guide to Turkey
A literary guide to Japan
A literary guide to Martha's Vineyard
A literary guide to West Texas
A literary guide to Togo
A literary guide to Brooklyn
A literary guide to Miami

--Marshal Zeringue