Monday 17 June 2019

To the Bright Edge of the World

To the Bright Edge of the World
To the Bright Edge of the World
By Eowyn Ivey

It’s 1885 and Colonel Allen Forrester has been assigned to lead his men up Alaska’s Wolverine River.  The journey will take them from Prince William Sound in the Gulf of Alaska, through narrow canyons and passages not yet explored by white men, and down the Yukon River to the Bering Sea.  They will travel deep into the territory of the Midnoosky Indians where, a century before, the Midnooskies massacred a group of Russian explorers.

The dangers are very real, but Colonel Forrester ensures that he is accompanied by capable men, including a translator.  He employs some of the Indians he meets, paying them to assist on the journey.  His practicality is tempered only by his love for his wife, Sophie.  Newly pregnant, Sophie awaits the Colonel’s return to their cabin at the Vancouver (Washington) Barracks.

An adventurous and unconventional woman, Sophie purchases a camera while her husband is away and occupies her time taking pictures of her beloved birds and developing photos.  She must face the prying eyes and judgmental nature of the other barracks ladies, most of whom find her hobby rather unbecoming.

Contrast this with the Colonel’s journey far from the civilized world.  Although he is prepared for physical hardship, he does not know how to cope with some of the unearthly terrors that besiege his party. When the Indians warn of the dangers in the mountains, where the dead roam, the Colonel dismisses them.  But he must concede that he cannot explain many of the events that transpire.  

Among other things, the Colonel’s party must contend with the local shaman, or the Man Who Flies on Black Wings.  “[T]he natives believe the Old Man can change the weather, make people sick or cure them, as suits his mood...  Today he’ll rob you blind, but tomorrow he might give you a warm blanket when you need it most.” (p. 59)

Most appealing about this novel is its format.  Written as a series of diary entries, official reports, letters and newspaper clippings, To the Bright Edge of the World even contains photographs and maps.  The book, although fictional, is like a tome of historical artefacts waiting to be uncovered.  I love the way it weaves together mystery, the supernatural, and a detailed, albeit imaginary past.

Highly recommended!