Thursday 24 January 2019

The Snow Child

The Snow Child
The Snow Child
By Eowyn Ivey

Jack and Mabel are struggling with their relationship and their inability to have children.  Seeking a new start, they travel north to become homesteaders on the Alaskan frontier.  

1920’s Alaska can be a brutal place.  Jack must manually clear his land for farming.  Mabel is expected to keep the home fires burning, although she wants nothing more than to get her hands dirty and share in the labour of farming.  Mabel begins to feel so isolated that she takes a stroll on the thin river ice, knowing full well the dangers. 

Then one day, a young girl appears at the edge of the forest.  Concerned for her safety, Jack and Mabel take her in and offer her food and shelter.  But the girl does not need their protection and quickly disappears.  Lovely and captivating, this girl flits in and out of the couple’s life as they fall hopelessly in love with her.

They begin to take on the role of caregivers and parents, but have no idea where she comes from.  It takes months, in fact, to even learn her name: Faina (Fah-EE-nah).

As months turn into years, Faina becomes a fixture at the homestead during the winter season.  Each year as the snow melts, Faina disappears into the mountains.  Her story is revealed slowly as both Jack and Mabel pursue her through the forest to learn more about her life. But the idea that she may be a magical creature always hovers on the periphery. This idea is reinforced by Mabel’s Russian picture book about a fairy child in the snow.

Yet neighbours Esther and George, who become close friends of Jack and Mabel, believe Faina to be the product of imagination – a kind of madness that sets in during the darkness of Alaskan winter.  But soon both families will become intricately tied to the otherworldly Faina.

Eowyn Ivey’s The Snow Child is magical realism at its best.  There is physical proof that Faina is a flesh and blood girl, and her life in the forest can be explained.  But how is it that she never feels the cold?  Why is she able to so easily move through the deep snow?  Magical or not, Faina’s presence unites Jack and Mabel, helping to heal their marriage.  A mesmerizing, haunting tale of joy and tragedy.  

Highly recommended!


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