It is rather risky to recommend a book that you have not read so I am greatly relieved and can now say without any reservations that Ivey’s, To the Bright Edge of the World is a wonderful book and I would gladly recommend it to anyone, not just to those of us who are going on an Alaskan cruise this summer!
Lieutenant-Colonel Allen Forrester has received his orders to lead a reconnaissance mission into the Territory of Alaska. in January of 1885. His mission-to travel up the Wolverine River, which has never been mapped and to proceed through uncharted territory assessing the climate, terrain, the native tribes and any other information that might be necessary in ascertaining how a military force might be sustained in the region. After mapping as much of the region as possible they would eventually reach the known and well charted area of the Yukon River and then eventually reach the coast and take a ship back to Vancouver Barracks from which they had started. The mission would start while it was still winter, while the Wolverine River was still covered in ice, to make traveling easier.
Forrester has been waiting for these orders for quite a while. He and his new wife Sophie have been living in the Vancouver Barracks, while making ready for the expedition. Sophie, an amateur naturalist, is planning to go, at least as far as Sitka with the team and anticipates the new birds and animals that she will be able to record in her field notes. But as the final preparations are made, Sophie finds that she is pregnant, and is forced to remain behind in Vancouver and to endure the stifling expectations of the other Barracks wives and challenge the limits imposed on her gender.
Allen and his team begin their journey but from the very beginning they are are confronted with difficult terrain, wild rivers, and the loss of much of their gear and food. The sledges that were supposed to help them skim over the ice are not light enough to traverse the many ice dams and fissures that cover the river and because of their late start the ice is beginning to melt and if they do not get out of the river valley with its sharp walls on either side, they will soon be swept down the river with the ice floes.
But it is not only the natural elements that they must negotiate, there is also the strange one legged native guide who seems to mock the white men and who disappears and appears in them most disconcerting ways. And then there are the encounters with the trappers and the native tribes, some of whom are friendly and some who still remember the brutal massacre of their people by Russian traders and will have nothing to do with any white man.
Told from the different perspectives of Allen and Sophie’s journal entries, and the correspondence between the curator of a small Alaskan museum located in the Wolverine River Valley and an aging descendant of the Forrester’s who donated their diaries and papers to the museum, it is at once a very intimate recounting of one particular moment in the lives of Allen and Sophie, as well as a broader more historic and contextual understanding of what Alaska was and what it has now become. Ivey’s portrayal of Sophie’s insistent but gentle resistance to doing or becoming what is expected of a lady during that time period is realistic and you cannot help but cheer for her as she comes into her own power. Ivey masterfully portrays the difficulties that Allen and his men endured, and the confrontation between the science of the West and the native cultural’ spiritual understanding of their environment. With themes similar to Neil Gaiman’s American God’s, Ivey uses this conflict to raise our awareness to the things that so often remain unseen and thus unknown when we do no account for the mysteriousness of life that surrounds us. Intriguing, haunting and beautifully written, this book is definitely one of the best books I have read in quite awhile!
Brenda Rating: *****(5 out of 5 Stars)
Recommend this book to: Keith, Ken,Lauren, Marian and Sharon
Book Study Worthy? Yes!
Read in ebook format.