“Did you know there are a hundred ways to die in Alaska?” Leni asked
Lenora (Leni) Allbright has not had an easy life. While her dad was in Vietnam, first fighting and then as a POW, she and her mom, Cora did the best they could. Now that Ernt is home, life is much harder. Ernt is damaged. He is moody and volatile. He has nightmares and near blackout fits of rage and he hates what he sees happening in the US in 1974.
So when they get the chance to move to Alaska, Ernt sees it as a new beginning. Fourteen-year-old Leni sees it as a hundred ways to die.
As if moving to Kaneq, off the Kenai Peninsula and near Homer, Alaska where less than 30 people live, wasn’t enough, the Allbrights are woefully unprepared for what living off the grid would actually entail.
A voracious reader, Leni wanted friends, but most of all she wanted her dad to be better. She wanted the kind, loving man that her mom said he was “Before.”
At first, things are great and Ernt is so much better, but as winter forces its way into Kaneq and the sun gives way to sixteen hours of darkness, unease settles back into Ernt and Leni knows they will never survive, but it may not be Alaska that kills them.
But in Kaneq, a land of strong men and even stronger women, neighbors keep each other alive and safe and Leni and Cora have friends who would kill or be killed to protect them and they meld into life as Alaskans, through and through.
Leni begs her mom to leave Ernt, but even though Ernt is the way he is, Cora is convinced that he will get better. In her heart and mind, Leni knows he won’t and Leni could never leave her mother alone with him. “Dad blew his temper and Mama somehow encouraged it. Like maybe she needed to know how much he loved her all the time.”
No matter how good Alaska had been for them, the darkness seemed to damage Ernt’s fragile mind even more – to the point where Leni came to know that there more than a hundred ways to die in Alaska, and not all of them from the outside.
This is an absolutely beautiful story from Kristin Hannah, the author of The Nightingale, about hope, but also about despair. It is about love and how close love can be to hate. It is the story of survival and also about letting go. It is a story of sacrifice and giving everything you can to keep your family safe and stable, loved and cared for, and most assuredly living a life that is meaningful.
This story is both haunting and amazingly cathartic about the perils of the Allbright family from both the wilderness of Alaska and of a man who loves his family but is too damaged to see that he is putting them squarely in the path of danger.
This story portrays the love of a woman and her unadulterated need to bring back the man she loved before he was broken by war. It shows how their daughter is shaped by their choices and their actions into a young woman who has to shoulder much more than any teenager should. It is also a fascinating story of the taming of a small part of Alaska if such a place ever really could be tamed.
Covering a span from 1974 – 1986 Hannah shows with brilliance what Cora and Leni did to not only survive, but thrive in a world that is both breathtakingly beautiful and inherently ugly at the same time.
This is one of the most wonderfully written novels I have read in a very long time. I found myself rereading phrases time after time and highlighting them so that I could return to them again later. While the subject matter is quite dark, there is also somewhat of a light-heartedness, not in a disrespectful way, but rather filled with a sense of love and acceptance through most of the characters.
I very rarely reread books, actually, I pretty much never reread books, as I have never understood why anyone would reread a book when there are so many new ones. But I already want to reread this one. There are hundreds of small nuances and so many metaphorical thoughts that I want to explore again. Such as “Without any mirrors in the house (Dad had broken them all over the years), she couldn’t assess how she looked. Leni had gotten used to seeing herself in shards of glass. Herself in pieces.” Oh, the psychology behind that statement!
I know I write this often, but I REALLY want everyone to read this book! The insights I gained were numerous, the tears I shed were cleansing, and the desire to see Cora and Leni survive was so real for me. I truly hated to come to the last page of this novel.
- The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah
- Hardback: 448 pages; Holtzbrinck Publishers; First Edition edition (February 6, 2018)
- Paperback – Macmillan (October 5, 2017)
- Kindle: 800 KB; St. Martin’s Press (February 6, 2018)
- Audiobook: 15 hours and 1 minute; Julia Whelan, narrator; Macmillan Audio (February 6, 2018
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