Anybody who takes it upon themselves up to sticks and live in this environment has to be both mentally and physically tough, very well resourced, prepared to co-exist with neighbours and in communities of equally tough people and go in with eyes very wide open. Survival of the fittest is taken to a whole new level.
This novel is narrated entirely from the point of view of a teenage girl, Leni, who is 13 when the story begins. It is 1974, she lives in Seattle with her parents Cora and Ernt. Ernt is a returned Vietnam vet. He has returned home a changed man - traumatised, angry, unsettled, prone to violent outbursts, unable to hold down a job. Living with him is not easy. He is gifted a tract of land with a cottage by a fellow soldier who died in Vietnam. You guessed it - it is in Alaska. On a whim, determined that this is going to be his one big opportunity to greatly improve the lives and outcomes of his small family, he announces they are all going to live in Alaska. So off they go. Fortunately they arrive late summer, which does give them some time to organise food, wood, resources, patch up the house before winter settles in. This process allows the reader to meet all the locals who turn up to help the new migrants settle in. What an interesting and diverse bunch they are. And tough
We are constantly told and warned as readers, how wild and hard the winters are. Not just the cold, but that it is dark for nearly 24 hours, there is no TV, unless you have a snow machine you are stuck in your little house with only each other for company, going outside is always a risk due to the unpredictability of the weather. Everyone goes a little stir crazy especially those already unbalanced in some way as Ernt is.
Leni's story takes place over some 15 years during which her spirit is always being challenged in some way, but as in 'The Nightingale', resilience and internal human strength shine through. Life in Alaska is brutal, not just the environment but also within the family as each of Cora, Ernt and Leni are constantly tested. It is not always an easy read - it could be very confronting for some, but wow, is it worth it. I still want to go back to Alaska, nothing has changed.