Title: The Great Alone
Author: Kristin Hannah
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Publication Date: February 6, 2018
Genre: Fiction | Historical | Coming of Age | Literary
Synopsis from St. Martin’s Press
Thank you to Raincoast Books & St. Martin’s Press for providing me a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.
Review: My connection to the Great Alone is deeply rooted in a time when the country was sharply divided during Vietnam, those who supported the war and those who didn’t and Ernt Allbright is a POW who fell into an extreme facet of the latter. Fed up with ‘the system’ and threat of apocalypse, Ernt packs up his family and heads north to Alaska to live off the grid. An old war buddy has willed him his dilapidated home on a swathe of land in a small tight-knit community in Kaneq, Alaska on the Kenai Peninsula. Ernt’s pie in the sky vision of Alaska doesn’t rub off on Cora and Leni but the promise of a life absent of his nightmares and volatility are convincing enough.
The Allbright’s settle in to their cabin and the Kaneq community but Ernt’s nightmares return and temper flares. Leni is caught in the middle of a toxic dance between her mother and father’s abusive relationship. Ernt hits Cora but she swears he never means it and he loves she and Leni more than anything. It doesn’t take long for friends to find out what happens behind closed doors and causes tension and strain in the community.
I am in awe of the characters in this book and I especially enjoyed Large Marge – with a name like that you know she’s full of vigor! Everyone is spirited, insightful, and complex which draws a deep bond between the reader and the story. And I put myself in Leni’s shoes as a 13-year old uprooted from a comfortable suburban lifestyle transplanted into the vast wilderness unprepared for the conditions and decisions she has to make to survive. One scene in particular I can’t get out of my mind is the one where Matthew rescues Cora and Leni from Ernt and flees up the mountain. It was a chilling juxtaposition between Alaska’s majestic beauty and how quickly she can turn on you and the frailty of human life. The outcome was wrought with emotion. I was utterly wrecked.
What impressed me about this novel is how easily it reads like an autobiography. I learned so much about what it takes to set up shop in the harshest conditions. There were things I hadn’t considered beforehand such as constructing a meat locker to keep the animals from eating the food, and how the short, dark winter days and brutal winter conditions effected people’s moods and ability to work or go to school. And equally the long 12-hour summer days of labour chores to prepare for the winter. I also learned what a close community really stands for. The saying, ‘he gave the shirt off his back’ isn’t just an idiom it’s the survival mantra in these parts – everyone helps each other.
To say this novel is moving is an understatement. It’s touching on so many levels. The Great Alone is one of my all time favourites and quite possibly the best of the year!