The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah

Genre: Historical Fiction
Published: February 2018 by Martin’s Press
My Rating: 4/5

Goodreads Synopsis:
Alaska, 1974.
Unpredictable. Unforgiving. Untamed.
For a family in crisis, the ultimate test of survival.

Ernt Allbright, a former POW, comes home from the Vietnam war a changed and volatile man. When he loses yet another job, he makes an impulsive decision: he will move his family north, to Alaska, where they will live off the grid in America’s last true frontier.

Thirteen-year-old Leni, a girl coming of age in a tumultuous time, caught in the riptide of her parents’ passionate, stormy relationship, dares to hope that a new land will lead to a better future for her family. She is desperate for a place to belong. Her mother, Cora, will do anything and go anywhere for the man she loves, even if it means following him into the unknown

At first, Alaska seems to be the answer to their prayers. In a wild, remote corner of the state, they find a fiercely independent community of strongmen and even stronger women. The long, sunlit days and the generosity of the locals make up for the Allbrights’ lack of preparation and dwindling resources.

But as winter approaches and darkness descends on Alaska, Ernt’s fragile mental state deteriorates and the family begins to fracture. Soon the perils outside pale in comparison to threats from within. In their small cabin, covered in snow, blanketed in eighteen hours of night, Leni and her mother learn the terrible truth: they are on their own. In the wild, there is no one to save them but themselves.

In this unforgettable portrait of human frailty and resilience, Kristin Hannah reveals the indomitable character of the modern American pioneer and the spirit of a vanishing Alaska―a place of incomparable beauty and danger. The Great Alone is a daring, beautiful, stay-up-all-night story about love and loss, the fight for survival, and the wildness that lives in both man and nature.

My Thoughts

What a satisfying read! This is my second Kristin Hannah read, (the first being The Nightengale), and I’m starting to get a good feel for her style. The Great Alone was another emotional whirlwind by this talented author. If we’re surprised, then we shouldn’t be, that once again Hannah has been able to turn out another book that holds your emotions aggressively in check. Where this author’s art is though, – her personal brand of writing magic –  is in knowing when the reader needs a lifeline. It’s that ability to time a rescue perfectly; where she can restore a reader’s hope and incite love with just a perfect line, a perfect scenario or the perfect twist of the story.

The Great Alone took me to Alaska. To the crisp peaks and white blankets. To summers that stretch the days and winters that dwindle into inked hours. To a wildness both unrelentingly breathtaking and unforgivably harsh. I’ve always enjoyed a book that so beautifully makes me feel a place. Alone, that’s sometimes enough to peel praise from me, but for this book, it’s just a favorited bonus to an addictive plot and well-crafted story. Well-paced and eventful enough to keep you glued to the pages, it urges you to get in that one more chapter, making this a quick read despite the book’s heft.

Hannah has given us characters that we hate and love and pity and fear and cheer for – sometimes all those mixed in and convoluted in the same paragraph. Although I did find some a bit too one-dimensional and simple, they round out the narrative well and add to the overall storyline, so I can’t complain too much.

Hannah also does a good job at capturing the mental turmoil of the 1970s, depicting the extremes and controversies that had pressurized under a war that still shames the world today. She used the solitude of not just Alaska itself, but of the community who call it home, to plant seeds of escape and secrecy and caution in the reader.

Overall, I liked most things about The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah. My only real criticism is in the final few chapters, in which I felt were rushed and a little fragmented. The reader goes from some highly empathetic and emotion-fueled chapters near the end of the book to ones that feel as though they only scrape the surface and it almost feels like you’ve been cheated. Those emotions and tensions that you felt so keenly moments before, get swallowed in the rush to finish the story and that did take away from my reading experience a little.

But that said, at the end of the day, this book does a great job at telling the story of a how a place can be salvation and doom in the same breath. Of how fragile life is, whether on the precipice of thin ice or in the dark secrets of a family’s home. And that, as a story, makes this a captivating and enjoyable read that I recommend.

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