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To The Bright Edge of the World

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Set again in the Alaskan landscape that she brought to stunningly vivid life in The Snow Child, Eowyn Ivey's second novel is a breathtaking story of discovery and adventure, set at the end of the nineteenth century, and of a marriage tested by a closely held secret.

Colonel Allen Forrester receives the commission of a lifetime when he is charged to navigate Alaska's hitherto impassable Wolverine River, with only a small group of men. The Wolverine is the key to opening up Alaska and its huge reserves of gold to the outside world, but previous attempts have ended in tragedy.

For Forrester, the decision to accept this mission is even more difficult, as he is only recently married to Sophie, the wife he had perhaps never expected to find. Sophie is pregnant with their first child, and does not relish the prospect of a year in a military barracks while her husband embarks upon the journey of a lifetime. She has genuine cause to worry about her pregnancy, and it is with deep uncertainty about what their future holds that she and her husband part.

A story shot through with a darker but potent strand of the magic that illuminated The Snow Child, and with the sweep and insight that characterizes Rose Tremain's The Colour, this novel from Pulitzer Prize finalist Eowyn Ivey singles her out as a major literary talent.

417 pages, Hardcover

First published August 2, 2016

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About the author

Eowyn Ivey

6 books3,269 followers
Eowyn Ivey's first novel, The Snow Child, was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in fiction and an international bestseller. Her newest novel To the Bright Edge of the World will be released August 2, 2016. Eowyn was raised in Alaska and continues to live there with her husband and two daughters.

Learn more:
Blog: Letters from Alaska

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 3,329 reviews
Profile Image for Angela M .
1,308 reviews2,191 followers
July 30, 2018
I wanted to read this book because The Snow Child is such a beautifully told story and Ivey's writing is so captivating . Although this one is a very different kind of story, it is gripping and beautiful as well and told in a unique way. It's a different kind of narrative consisting of journal entries, drawings, photos, diary entries, descriptions of artifacts, newspaper articles, official army reports and my favorite selections, the beautiful love letters. Ivey does a masterful job of blending these pieces to create a story of adventure, of history, of love, of native tribes of the Wolverine, of spirits, of the uncharted place that was Alaska in 1885.

Mainly it is told through the journal of Lieut. Col. Allen Forrester in which he details the long and arduous journey along the Wolverine River to Alaska while on a reconnaissance mission , alternating with his wife Sophie's diary as she waits for his return. All of this is contained within a current day story of a descendant of Forrester, depicted in correspondence with a young man in Alaska who curates a museum of Alaska's history. It's not as confusing as it sounds. The descriptions of the landscape and natural surroundings take you there. The vivid details of the trek, the hunger, the danger of enemies both human and non, the goodness of natives met along the way take you there.

There is so much in Sophie's diaries as well . She feels stifled by the views of society on the place of women . Even though she suffers a loss, she thrives while waiting for her husband's return. She is independent, intelligent, loves the natural surroundings and is teaching herself photography to be able to preserve some of the beauty she sees in birds especially the hummingbird. This is a beautiful image juxtaposed against the recurring Raven, an ominous image and symbol throughout. I would have given it five stars but I have to admit I felt it was drawn out and a little slow at times. But then this perhaps perfectly reflected the long, slow journey of Forrester and his men. Ivey is a talented writer and I will look for what she does in the future.

I really wanted to know how much of the story was based on fact and found this brief interview with the author https://www.theguardian.com/books/201....

Thanks to Little, Brown and Company and NetGalley.
Profile Image for Cheri.
1,796 reviews2,389 followers
October 17, 2016
I’ve finished the pages, closed my kindle, and yet, I still feel held in this otherworldly moment, unwilling to rejoin “this” world that is my real life. Even that seems untrue, because this story feels so real, it’s hard to believe that any part of this is fictional, not real.

Eowyn Ivey’s novel, “To the Bright Edge of the World” is lovely, the prose is gorgeous, and the varying points of view made this all the more compelling.

Walter, Walt, Forrester wants to find a home for the boxes of letters and journals and various artifacts which relate to an expedition made by his great-Uncle in 1885 through Alaska as a Lieutenant Colonel. As a boy Walter had read these letters and journals, and again at other points in his life. He has always found them fascinating, and they are very dear to him. Now in his 70s, he feels they should find a place where they can safely be admired by others.

Walter finds a small museum which sits near the river Lt. Col. Allen Forrester had travelled by in Alpine, Alaska. When Joshua Sloan, curator of the museum, first receives the boxes of letters, journals, photographs, newspaper clippings, with more to come, he fears his museums isn’t exactly where these items belong, but as he begins reading, he falls deeply into their spell. As a member of the Wolverine River tribe, he recognizes the places Forrester’s journal describes. As he writes back to Walter, there is the natural back and forth their letters take, and soon a friendship is formed.

If you’ve read Eowyn Ivey’s The Snow Child, you will already be aware of her ability to seamlessly weave in myth, fable and folklore into her stories, athis novel set in Alaska contains all that, and more. It’s an adventure story on two fronts: Allen’s trek across the wilderness with his crew and assorted others, as well as his wife Sophie’s somewhat tamer adventure - in our eyes, perhaps - but borderline scandalous behavior for the time, filling her days with her newfound passion. There’s a bit of mystery involved, and some tense, terrifying moments for Allen & crew as they trek through territory deemed haunted.

“I can find no means to account for what we have witnessed, except to say that I am no longer certain of the boundaries between man & beast, of the living & the dead. All that I have taken for granted, what I have known as real & true, has been called into question.” – Lt. Col. Allen Forrester

A historical novel with supernatural occurrences, add in a fable/fairy-tale like quality with magical realism, one heck of an adventure story, and a love story that takes many forms. The love story of Allen and Sophie. The love of Alaska and its wild but unquestionable beauty. Not to mention the love of the reader for these characters, and for this gift of a story.

Pub Date: 02 Aug 2016

Many thanks for the ARC provided by Little, Brown and Company, NetGalley and author Eowyn Ivey
Profile Image for jessica.
2,555 reviews35.6k followers
May 12, 2021
epistolary novels usually arent my kind of thing (i didnt know this was one before i picked it up), so im surprised that i enjoyed this.

i think it helps that there is an outside plot/reason as to why the letters, journal entries, photographs, artifact logs, sketches, and army orders are being compiled. the museum curator is an effective way at creating a greater purpose, as it feels we are discovering the letters with him.

what really got me was how much i came to adore allen and sophie as a pair. they are separated the entire book, and yet there is such a tenderness about them. they are definitely kindred souls and their words to each other, as well as their individual thoughts about each other, are really quite lovely.

alaska is also on my bucket list of places to visit. yes, just like allens trek, the story does feel drawn out and slow at times, but i was so involved with the setting that i didnt mind it.

overall, this is not a book i initially thought i was going to like, but there are many reasons that caused me to enjoy it.

3.5 stars
Profile Image for Kevin Ansbro.
Author 5 books1,470 followers
January 7, 2020
"Ivashov and his men were sleeping in their sleds when, at a prearranged sign, the Midnooskies crushed each of the men's skulls with axes."

At first glance this is a story that I shouldn't like: it's essentially an account of an expedition into the frozen wilds of Alaska, expressed in the form of diaries and historical documents.
Sounds boring, right?
This is, in fact, an epic tale of love, nature, historical adventure and North American mythology that had me absorbed from start to finish.

It's 1885: Dutiful and capable Lieutenant-Colonel Allen Forrester leads a reconnaissance mission into Alaska, up the Wolverine River, to gauge whether the natives of the territory would be hostile or not.
At the same time, his pregnant wife, Sophie Forrester, is confined to Vancouver Barracks.
Optimistic, ladylike and resolute (think Charlotte Brontë), she keeps a journal of her daily life, as does her hubby.
Sophie's snug life of self-discovery and afternoon teas forms the perfect contrast to her husband's grim and perilous odyssey.

With the words of his blood & guts father, General James Forrester, ringing in his ears (that his preference for topographical engineering is for sissies) Allen has nevertheless previously shown his mettle in the heat of battle.

Ivey's prose is precise and evocative, rather than poetic and descriptive. It is this verisimilitude that gives the story some grit and amplifies the magic that is braided into the narrative.
The novel is extremely well written, which is a benediction these days.
Particularly groovy was a description of bats as being "mice who swim with the stars."
Love that!

Those accompanying him on the trip include boisterous hell-raiser, Sergeant Tillman, and Tillman's polar opposite, brooding Lieutenant Pruitt, who prefers a sextant to sex.
Also in the party is an old Eyak Indian, known as "The Man Who Flies on Black Wings."
This chap sleeps at the top of trees in the dead of night and is said to possess unearthly powers.

And this is where the story gets really interesting...
As a fan of magical realism, I love Ivey's sorcerous incantation of anthropomorphism and zoomorphism.
Native folklore and perceived reality become blurred; it is believed that humans have been seen shape-shifting into animals and that trees can double up as wombs! As a result, Forrester's white man scepticism is sorely tested on the assignment.
The wilderness of wintry Alaska, with its frozen rivers and deep-set snow, is best suited to mineral prospectors and fur trappers and if anyone can survive that, Spring awaits with its squadrons of ceaseless mosquitoes.

Comic relief comes in the form of Sergeant Tillman who has a bash at writing the daily log while his scholarly superior is indisposed. Unforchinitly his speling and grammer isnt as gud as wot forristers is. : )

Side by side throughout the book, yet a hinterland apart, Allen's indomitable spirit is mirrored by his wife's determination to challenge chauvinistic attitudes back at the barracks. The dichotomy of their parallel existence is a constant theme throughout, as is the symbolism of the colour black: black wolf; black raven; black hat; black bear, etcetera.

This has all the ingredients of a first-rate novel and serves as a sad reminder that the Native American's soulful connection with nature is now only the stuff of legend.

Homeric and allegorical, To the Bright Edge of the World is a cracking read that cannot be ignored.
Huge thanks to Cheri for her judicious recommendation.
Profile Image for Paromjit.
2,708 reviews25k followers
November 2, 2016
This is an enthralling and atmospheric historical novel set in late nineteenth century Alaska. The narrative takes the form of interwoven articles, photographs, journals, diary, letters etc.. There are three different storylines. Recently married Colonel Allen Forrester is entrusted to map the impassable Wolverine River in Alaska and document information on the various native Indian tribes. His journal gives an insight into this harrowing and pioneering expedition, including their experience of folklore, magical realism and shamanism. His strong and independent wife, Sophie, finds herself having to remain in the barracks upon discovering that she is pregnant. Her diary entries tell of her life whilst Allen is away. Walt, a relative of Colonel Allen Forrester, sends a box of Allen's journals with other items, to document this vital history of Alaska to Joshua Sloan, a museum curator.

Allen is accompanied by the colourful Sergeant Tillman, the moody and troubled Lieutenant Pruitt and by the invaluable and helpful trapper, Samuelson. They are to experience many desperate privations that include extreme hunger, the biting cold, and loss of much needed supplies. They encounter differing attitudes from the various Indian tribes, but would not be alive if they had not received vital help from them. They continually encounter the disturbing, unnerving and contrary old Eyak man. They encounter the beauty of this inhospitable region such as its awe inspiring and challenging landscape and the Aurora Borealis. The expedition inevitably takes in severe losses.

Sophie chafes at the strictures placed on her by the army and the circle of women prone to gossip. After tragedy strikes, she subsumes her grief to focus on becoming a photographer. She has a burning desire to photograph birds, particularly hummingbirds, and despite all the obstacles she faces, she charts her own pioneering path. It requires immense patience and fortitude, she is helped by pharmacist Henry Redington and Charlotte who becomes her assistant. The love letters between Sophie and Allen document the depth of their love and its progressive nature given the historical period.

At a dinner in the barracks where an Indian Chief is present, we come face to face with the fear, ignorance and racism directed towards him and a young Chinese boy. The white trader, Jensen, sees Indians as less than human and as slaves. Indians are gruesomely massacred, and we discover that Allen is forced to break promises he made to Indians. Carnage is to follow in the footsteps of the expedition and the consequent arrival of the mining industry and fur trappers to the region. Indians are forced to abandon their traditional lifestyles and values. The detrimental effects of tuberculosis, influenza and alcoholism hit hard. The complications of humanity and its abuses is writ large in this novel.

Walt and Josh's relationship grows and develops as Josh connects ever more deeply and personally with the historical journals and artefacts of the expedition. Josh begins to compare his knowledge of the changes that have taken place in the region since the expedition and prepares an exhibition that connects the past with the present. This is an impeccably researched and epic story that gives us well formed and engaging characters of the time. The descriptions given are so good that you feel that you are there with the characters. Just loved the book and cannot recommend it highly enough. Thanks to Headline for an ARC.
Profile Image for Always Pouting.
575 reviews762 followers
June 12, 2017
I didn't expect to like this book as much as I did because the premise makes it seem like it's going to be slow and tedious but wow I was so drawn into the story when I actually started reading it. The writing was fantastic and I enjoyed all the characters. Sophie was particularly enjoyable for me. I love how the myths and culture of the natives was weaved into the story line, and I always enjoy books with magic realism in them usually. Also the old man was hilarious. Really well written and constructed.

Profile Image for Candi.
622 reviews4,714 followers
December 20, 2020
4.5 stars

“I found myself inadequate in the face of it… I begin to try to comprehend: gray rivers that roar down from the glaciers, mountains and spruce valleys as far as the eye can see. It is a grand, inscrutable wildness. Never are the people here allowed to forget that each of us is alive only by a small thread.”

I had the chance to visit Alaska once, more than twenty years ago now. Such a majestic landscape, almost otherworldly in its uniqueness from anything else I had ever seen before. From the rugged coast and the splendid yet formidable glaciers to the vastness of the interior, I was completely bowled over by the fact that this expanse was actually a piece of our own country. Last month, I had the fortune of visiting this land once more – from the warmth of my living room couch this time around. Between Eowyn Ivey’s rich prose and my own vivid memories, I was able to conjure that sense of awe all over again. My only wish is that I had read this after the holidays, when I could truly wrap myself up in these words without my thoughts running to shopping, baking or any of those tasks required to make the season ‘bright’.

“It doesn’t matter what draws explorers—wealth or fame or military power, or even genuine curiosity—they alter a place just by traveling through it and recording what they see.”

This novel is written as a series of journal and diary entries, letters, newspaper articles and the like. It was a highly effective way to tell a story, allowing the reader to experience firsthand the fear, wonder, joy and sorrow of these characters. Lieutenant Colonel Allen Forrester, along with Lieutenant Andrew Pruitt and Sergeant Bradley Tillman, is tasked with the responsibility of mapping the interior of the Alaskan Territory and gathering information on the native tribes. Sophie, only recently married to Forrester, must forge her own way while anxiously awaiting any news and anticipating the day she can be reunited with her husband. Sophie is a strong woman, both intelligent and independent - traits that were often deemed as rather eccentric for her gender during the 1880s. Besides an adventure tale, this is also a bittersweet kind of love story. Rather than sitting around and pining incessantly for her husband, however, Sophie pairs her favorite pastime of bird watching with a new pursuit of photography. I’m pretty hopeless when it comes to taking pictures, but I’ve always admired this form of art. When not caught up in the perils of traipsing through the remote landscapes of Alaska, I was enthralled with Sophie’s attempts to catch that consummate moment.

“It seems to me now that such a moment requires a kind of trinity: you and I and the thing itself.”

Ivey has a gift of drawing the reader right into her story. You come to know several of these characters intimately. Besides Sophie, I found Andrew Pruitt to be a fascinating individual. Brooding, mysterious, and more the poet and intellectual, Pruitt was out of his element in this place where survival was the primary concern of these men. He would have been more at home sitting in a log cabin beside a warm fire with a book in hand or with a pen to paper. He seemed a man lost and I felt for him more deeply than perhaps anyone else here besides Sophie.

“Cowardice, sickly yellow thing, I found you like worms writhing beneath an overturned rock—I peeled back my self and beheld you at my core where a shining soul should have been.”

Woven throughout the novel are bits of Native American folklore and superstitions. A land so vastly unexplored will naturally evoke a mystical quality, and there are many tales of hauntings, transmogrifications and other strange happenings. Rather than pulling me out of the story as magical realism is wont to do, these elements added an aura that seemed authentic in the context of this time and place.

This is more than simply an adventure tale or a love story or an historical narrative of the exploration and charting of new lands. Above all, To the Bright Edge of the World teaches us to step outside our own boundaries and broaden our minds and our opportunities by using our gifts to the best of our abilities.

“That is the excitement. We catch only glimpses, a burst of movement, a flap of wings, yet it is life itself beating at shadow’s edge. It is the unfolding of potential; all of what we might experience and see and learn awaits us.”
Profile Image for Linda.
1,286 reviews1,329 followers
February 6, 2017
How is it that we tell a story?

The best of them are true extensions of the human spirit relayed through journals, diaries, letters, photos, and the like. It's the hand that grips us tightly and takes us deeply into the experiential catacombs of another.

Oh, Eowyn Ivey does it so well as she did with such finesse in The Snow Child before this. To make us, the readers, feel with this finite acuity is a gift. If you take away anything from this novel, just read the letter from Lieutenant Colonel Forrester to his wife, Sophie, that begins on Page 376.

To The Bright Edge of the World is an amazing journey told through the perspectives of Lieutenant Colonel Forrester, Sophie Forrester, and two gentlemen, more present day, who are organizing the journals and field diaries of the Forresters. Forrester and his men begin a grueling expedition in the winter of 1885 along the Wolverine River and into the Alaskan Territory. They encounter the cruelties of the rugged terrain around every corner.....and they are ill-prepared for what lies ahead of them. They come across the painfully real and, perhaps, the questionably imagined.

The indigenous tribes play a remarkable role throughout the story. Their presence dips into the inkwell of such thoughts, words, and actions told in almost unspeakable terms. Survival depended upon these individuals and annihilation by these same people was, indeed, a reality borne out in times past.

Sophie Forrester exists in parallel with her husband. She waits anxiously for any bit of news through scant letters. But Sophie carries the heaviness of a burden that few words can describe. She lives with this reality and it swaddles her in grief both day and night. She must cut a path of her own making in a time when such behavior turns heads. "I wonder that any life has ever been confined to golden dances and fine stitches and silk, for it seems to me that suffering knows no class or rank, gender or age, and we each of us brave our own darkness."

And those of us who have experienced the majesty of Alaska, I can only say it in the Colonel's words: "I begin to try to comprehend gray rivers that roar down from the glaciers, mountains & spruce valleys as far as the eye can see. It is grand, inscrutable wildness."

Profile Image for Diane S ☔.
4,781 reviews14.2k followers
July 25, 2016
When Colonel Forrester leaves from the army barracks in Vancouver, he is charged with exploring the Wolverine River in the newly acquired territory of Alaska. He leaves behind his wife, Sophie. As he blazes a trail in the wilderness, filled with tribes of different Indians, horrific snowstorms, lack of food, loss of supplies and many surreal and some dangerous happenings, his wife is blazing her own trail. After suffering a personal tragedy, Sophie, bored with gossip and teas with the other army wives, takes up photography. A love of nature, birds, being outdoors will bring the condemnation of the other women especially after she turns her pantry into a darkroom.

Told in letters, journal entries, photos, drawings and newspaper articles this is a superb adventure story. There are also dual timelines as in the present an ancestor of the Forrester, now in his seventies sends all the paper items he has to a small museum in Nome, Alaska. I appreciated this part because it showed how these beginning trailblazers changed so much in how Alaska progressed and not necessarily all for the better. There is also a raven threaded throughout it is a very important and mysterious part of the story.

Although completely different in many ways from her first novel, she still included many of the things that made her first book so successful. Atmosphere is superb and her love for Alaska shines through. I enjoyed slowly reading through this, often reading a few entries or so at night before I went to bed. Another wonderful story by this talented author.

ARC from Netgalley.
Profile Image for Larry H.
2,510 reviews29.5k followers
November 8, 2016
Eowyn Ivey is one of those rare authors whose talent shines brightly when they are capturing small, quiet moments, as well as dramatic occurrences. Her first book, The Snow Child , was an absolute wonder, and it made my list of the best books I read in 2012. In her new book, To the Bright Edge of the World , Ivey returns to her beloved Alaska and dazzles once again.

One of the things that's so remarkable about Ivey's talent is that this book is so tremendously compelling despite the fact that the two main characters are almost never together.

In 1885, Lieutenant Colonel Allen Forrester has agreed to take on a challenging and potentially dangerous mission, to lead a small group of men up the Wolverine River and into the Alaska Territory. They're not really sure to what to expect from this expedition, but Allen is determined to find answers as to what—and whom—awaits them. He leaves behind his young pregnant wife, Sophie, who had hoped to travel with Allen at least part of the way, until she found out she was expecting.

Being stuck in the Vancouver barracks is not the type of life Sophie had in mind. Her passion for nature and wildlife, birds in particular, is out of step with most women of her time, particularly those living in the barracks. But she doesn't really seem to care. She isn't content to simply sit and gossip, or entertain women at her home (much less ensure the house is adequately clean for them). She'd much rather find an elusive hummingbird or other birds she's not familiar with.

"I told myself I would never take it for granted—the freedom to choose my own dress, to plan my days, to walk where I desired and see what I would."

Allen and his men find Alaska breathtakingly beautiful, unforgiving, baffling, and at times tremendously rewarding. Yet there appears to be at least the threat of danger around every corner, and they must contend with the weather, the tundra itself, settlements of Indians which react differently to Allen's group, the challenges of living in close proximity with each other, and some strange occurrences which don't seem as if they have any basis in reality. Allen chronicles everything in his journal, since he knows his letters may take a very long time to reach Sophie, and he views his journal as the ultimate record should their exploring fail.

For her part, Sophie also keeps a diary, chronicling her loneliness and longing for Allen, her feeling stifled by barracks life and the gossiping women around her, and the excitement she feels when she discovers photography is an outlet for both her love of nature and her independent, creative spirit. She is a woman so used to following her own course yet she'd give anything to be with her husband again, or at least get word of his condition.

Allen and Sophie's stories are told against the backdrop of correspondence between Allen's great-nephew and the curator of an Alaskan museum, which also are fascinating exchanges about cultural identity, the thirst for adventure, and both how alike and how different we are from each other.

Much like an expedition, the book started slowly but picked up steam as it progressed. Ivey's characters felt so lifelike, their struggles so real, I felt totally invested in their lives. Ivey has such a way with imagery, with emotion, that I pictured the book in my mind's eye and felt it in my heart. This is totally a keeper and it is utterly memorable.

NetGalley and Little, Brown and Company provided me an advance copy of the book in exchange for an unbiased review. Thanks for making this available!

See all of my reviews at http://itseithersadnessoreuphoria.blo....
Profile Image for Julie G.
896 reviews2,925 followers
February 24, 2018
First off. . . let's start here. . . do yourself (and this book) a favor, and don't rush this read. This is not something to be plowed through or set on a schedule, or read on an airplane or in a noisy room. This story should be given the dignity of your time and a special space, and it deserves it.

This is one of those rare novels that starts out at a solid 3.5/4.0 rating, and then crawls its way to a 5.0 read and stays there.

How good is this book? Like, Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and National Book Award good. Like, it might be studied in classrooms one day good. Like, I'm going to buy it, place it gingerly on my bookshelf and read it over and over again in my lifetime good.

If you loved Cold Mountain or The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society or These is My Words, you will probably love this novel. Alternatively, if you love Jack London, or consider yourself a lover of the Great Outdoors or exploration, you're the right kind of reader for this, too.

Perhaps the only requirement for loving this is the gift of vision and a working brain?

This book provoked in my mind a quote by Emerson that I have hanging on my patio: Do not follow where the path may lead. Go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.

That is how I feel about this story, its characters and the thought-provoking images, ideas and writing. Excellent. Sublime. Well-done.

What a trail Ms. Ivey has left behind. I can't wait to follow it again.
Profile Image for Jen CAN.
505 reviews1,480 followers
September 18, 2016
This is a put on the fire, heat up some hot chocolate and wrap yourself in a warm fluffy blanket kind of read. It is slow paced, atmospheric, detailed, an exchange of letters.
The year is 1885. Allen Forrester is on an expedition traversing the Alaskan wilderness with a small group of men to map out the territory.
He writes to his wife, Sophia, who sits at home in confinement, waiting for her husband to return. He writes of the terrain, the hardships.
She writes back of her own challenges she faces being smothered by society in what a lady can and cannot do; loneliness.
The structure of this novel was romantic. The back and forth letters speak of love and survival.
Allan's messages are rich with Indian folklore and the barrenness of the land. There are pictures at various stages in the book which lend this story a flavour of reality. Sophia's letters reflect personal growth that comes with the separation.
Overall, an interesting and engaging read and characters well drawn out... I'm surprised I liked this as much as I did. 4*
Profile Image for Bam cooks the books ;-).
1,912 reviews248 followers
January 8, 2018
Note: rereading for my library's book club. It was chosen at my recommendation so I am hoping they will love it as much as I did!

I fell totally head-over-heels in love with this book! Through NetGalley, I've been fortunate enough to read several books being published this year with advanced reader's copies and this is by far one of the finest--many thanks to NetGalley, the publisher and the author for the opportunity!

Now the question is: how to do this gem justice in my review? How to describe the pleasure this book has given me? Those who know me well know I have a fascination and love for Alaska, having recently returned from our second trip there in ten years. I still have northern lights in my eyes and dream of mountain vistas! Shortly after our trip, I read an account of John Muir's explorations in Alaska (Alaska Days with John Muir) written by his friend and traveling companion, Samuel Hall Young, which I thoroughly enjoyed and recommend for those interested in the early exploration of Alaska.

For a fictionalized account along the same lines, I highly recommend Eowyn Ivey's new book, To The Bright Edge of the World. It is first and foremost historical fiction and adventure, about a reconnaissance expedition undertaken in March, 1885, to explore and map the interior of the newly purchased Alaskan territory and document the native tribes found along the Wolverine River. The party is made up of Lieutenant Colonel Allen Forrester, Lieutenant Andrew Pruitt and Sergeant Bradley Tillman, plus the trapper Samuelson, invaluable for his rudimentary knowledge of native languages. They set off from Perkins Island a little later in the spring than they had hoped, with a crippled old Eyak man, a shaman wearing a top hat, gentleman's vest and necklace of bones, teeth and beads, plus three native boys, who were deemed too young to be off on the hunt with the rest of the men of the tribe.

The story is told through journals, reports, illustrations, photographs, newspaper clippings and artifacts that were collected by the Forrester family. One of the last remaining relatives, great-nephew Walter Forrester, now in his 70s and living in Montana, is in possession of all this 'treasure' and wants to make sure it is preserved as part of Alaskan history and has therefore sent boxes of the material to a small historical museum in Alpine, Alaska, near the same Wolverine River that the Forrester party explored. At first the exhibits curator, Joshua Sloan, is overwhelmed by the sheer quantity of material and wants to refuse it, suggesting it should be given to a much larger museum in Anchorage (with a larger staff to deal with it). But Walt urges him to reconsider and at least read through some of the journals before making his decision, and sure enough, when he does Josh is hooked. Part of the joy of reading this correspondence is the warm friendship that springs up between the two men who have met only through their letters.

Forrester's journals describe the beautiful landscape, the harrowing trek through ice fields, the losses they suffer in vivid detail. But what makes this account truly unique is the touch of magical realism that begins to permeate his report of their experiences almost right from the start: before they even leave Perkins Island, Allen spots the lame old shaman high up in a spruce tree in the middle of the night and is creeped out. How did he get up there...and why? The natives call him 'the man who flies.' Is he their helper or their enemy? Often they are not really sure as he cackles at their misfortunes. He seems to hand out hexes and healing in equal measure. Forrester reports several other strange experiences that officials later put down to hallucinations brought on by exposure to harsh conditions, exhaustion and starvation. They couldn't possibly be real, right?

Back at the Vancouver Barracks awaits Allen's young wife, Sophie, a former teacher who is pregnant with their first child, and many of the writings included are her journals which express her worries, loneliness and boredom at being left to await her husband's return. She is the daughter of a sculptor who apparently went quite mad before his death but Sophie has never found that same artistic spark within herself. She does loves nature, especially birds, and appreciates that certain quality of light and shadow. Before the men leave on their assignment, Sophie becomes very interested in Pruitt's photographic instruments and decides to pursue that hobby herself after tragedy strikes. She finds she has the artistic eye for composition, shadow and light--and above all, the fortitude and patience to await the perfect moment for her shot. She specializes in birds and comes to the realization that the nest might be the ideal spot for a chance at a great photo--especially of her favorite, the hummingbird. (This made me laugh with shared frustration as we have often struggled to catch a shot of those little flitters in our garden!)

Sophie little cares that she is the subject of much derision and consternation among the other officers' wives as she traipses through the fields surrounding the barracks in beat up clothes. Back then, women were expected to be predictable, quiet and insipid after all. But not her! History is not made by timid women.

In the present day, Josh notes with irony that by the very act of exploring, these men set off change. Within 20 years, mining and railroads would come to the area. Progress, with a capital P! But these brave explorers were also witnesses to the 'before' and document those details of native life that might otherwise have been forgotten.

No, I cannot do this book justice in this simple review, but let me say this book resonated with me and awakened great pleasure in the reading, transporting this reader to the early days of Alaskan exploration to see it with fresh eyes. Alaska of today might seem 'civilized' to those early explorers if they could see it now, but to most of us visitors, it is still an adventure--a harsh and beautiful world, ruled by mother nature. Thank you, Eowyn Ivey, for bringing this story and little known history to life.

#2016-aty-reading-challenge-week-45: A book related to a passion you have.
Profile Image for Karen.
593 reviews1,198 followers
February 6, 2017
This story is full of adventure and discovery as Colonel Alan Forrester is commissioned to go to the Wolverine River in Alaska, with just a few men, the year is 1885.

This story tells of everything the men encountered, how his new wife Sophie got on without him while she stayed in the military barracks, and tells a simultaneous story, in modern day, of Forrester's great nephew and his handling of Forrester's artifacts and journals from the adventure

I did like this very much, but not nearly as much as the author's The Snow Child

Thank you NetGalley for the free download!
Profile Image for Phrynne.
3,322 reviews2,142 followers
February 6, 2017
Beautiful cover, intriguing title, by the same author as The Snow Child - this book was just begging to be read. So I read it and I am very glad I did!
Eowyn Ivey knows Alaska well and it shows in her beautiful descriptions and her understanding of the country. I have never been there but it is certainly on my bucket list now.
I enjoyed the presentation of the story very much. There are diary entries and letters from the past between the two main characters, letters in the current day from other interested parties and many other little comments, anecdotes and drawings to add to the text. It was more a journey of discovery than a simple book.
It was also a delightfully set romance between two outstanding people of the time, one an explorer and the other a self taught photographer. Both amazing characters who you really, really want to see succeed in their tasks and still spend a lifetime together.
One of those books you remember for ages after you have finished. Loved every word of it:)
Profile Image for Matt.
3,817 reviews12.8k followers
February 8, 2018
Eowyn Ivey returns with another sensational novel set in the heart of Alaska. Though completely different from her first piece, it is sure to intrigue curious readers, as did her debut novel, The Snow Child. In 1885, Lieutenant-Colonel Allen Forrester received a commission from the Army brass to lead an expedition up the Wolverine River in the Alaskan Territory, where he is to provide topographical sketches, detailed reports, and engage in significant interactions with the local Indian population. This is the first such formal expedition by the United States since procuring the territory from Russia. Armed with a crew hand-picked for him, Forrester brings his wife out to the Washington Territory, where the journey will begin. However, Sophie is unable to join her husband when she discovers that she is with child. Their time apart will be filled solely with letters to one another about their respective adventures. As Forrester and his crew proceed, they encounter many of the locals, who educate about the ways of the Indian tribes and how they have survived for millennia living off the land, while also posing questions about ‘red beards’ and their backwards ways. Forrester and his men suffer greatly from illness and fatigue, but are able to acclimate and make many astounding discoveries, all documented in reports, journals, or letters back home. Sophie has chosen not to remain sedentary, pining for her husband, but embarks on her own adventures, educating herself about the intricacies of motherhood and fetal growth, as well as the new art of photography. Already enamoured with birds, Sophie attempts to capture them in their native state, while utilising new-fangled technology. She, too, makes many a discovery and suffers a few omens that will change her life forever. In an interesting modern side-story, Ivey has Walter Forrester—grand-nephew of Allen—engage in numerous pieces of correspondence with the curator of the Alpine Historical Museum, one Joshua Sloan. Walter seeks not only to donate his great-uncle’s journals, but also many of the photographs and items brought back from the Territory. Together, they not only relive the expedition through the documents, but also examine their respective lives, as revealed through their numerous letters. All who take part of read of these adventures are forever enveloped in their greatness and serve to pass the news along to subsequent generations. Ivey amazes the reader with this piece that flows so smoothly, though is full of detail and passionate writing. Fans of her debut will surely want to find and devour this piece in short order.

After reading The Snow Child, I was amazed at the detail Ivey is able to put into her writing. When I heard of this book, I was not sure what to expect or whether it would pale in comparison. I remained equally sceptical, as I am not one for military expeditions, so wondered if I would skim through it and pick out only the most essential pieces. However, once I allowed myself to relax and begin absorbing the narrative, I was transported back in time and could not stop reading. Ivey uses a number of different characters, whose differing lenses offer a dynamic story. Lieutenant-Colonel Forrester’s documentation throughout provides not only the formal reports, but heartfelt longing for his wife, self-reflection about what he has come to discover, and angst at some of the harder pieces to fathom. The reader grows as they connect to Forrester, who seems to soften the further the expedition travels. Sophie Forrester is just as alluring a character, struck with her own troubles, but refuses to let them shape her. While many of the women around her seem happy to don gowns and speak of trivialities, she explores herself (literally and metaphorically) and the world around her, through the lens of a camera. The symbolism throughout the narrative that is contrasted between these two characters cannot be lost on the attentive reader and it becomes more telling as the novel progresses. The secondary characters prove useful to propel the story forward and offer their own personal connection for the reader to enjoy, should they desire. There is much to learn and the perspectives offer a hearty opportunity for the reader to learn much of what there is to know about the Alaskan Territory. The story itself is rich in its prose and symbols, though does not drag or become too pretentious. In fact, Ivey lightens the mood by using many snippets of journals, advertisements, medical research, as well as the modern-day correspondence between Walter Forrester and Joshua Sloan. There is no end to the wonders that Ivey is able to pack into this novel, succinct in its delivery, though opening many avenues for further reading. One can only hope she will continue to find ways to shine a light on her home state and do so in such a way as to dazzle the reader with her elegant writing style and silky-smooth narrative.

Kudos, Madam Ivey, for another winner. I will be sure to praise both your novels to anyone who has the time to enjoy them. You have piqued my interest about Alaska and the American settlements throughout the vast territory.

Love/hate the review? An ever-growing collection of others appears at:

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/...
Profile Image for Elyse Walters.
4,010 reviews598 followers
September 8, 2016
From sparsely settled and poorly explored,.... ["an avalanche of snow, ice, earth, & rocks, that spilled down the gully, swept through our camp"]....
......."an adventure of a life time"......
Present Day Rafting trips down the Wolverine River with comfortable sleeping quarters and freshly prepared meals. "The adventure of a life time".

It's hard to believe 'anything' about this novel is fiction. "To The Bright Edge of the World" is a 'novel' ... but feels like a historical biography. The storytelling is beautifully woven together through letters back and forth, newspaper articles that looks so official,....that I swear I would be able to find them in the library today, photographs, and notes from journals.

Lieutenant Colonel Allen Forrester and his wife Sophie send letters back and forth to each other which give a lot of heart to this story. Their love for each other has the type of qualities I admire most in any healthy relationship. Each of them are independent thinkers... respect each others dedication to nature...and its obvious that they adore being together...one can 'feel' their emotional connection. Their type of relationship contributes to the world at large. Neither one of them are possessive or controlling --each has passions of their own. Sophie is a true birdwoman. She took amazing photographs of birds which were printed in Scientific journals and magazines. Her husband, the Colonel, was known for the important expedition into Alaska Territory in 1885. The other men on that expedition were Lieutenant Andrew Pruitt...(photographer), Sergeant Bradley Tillman...( cocky whiskey drinking arrogant untactful ...but capable in quick-thinking-dangerous situations), and Sammuelson, a huntsman and mapman.
Sophie wanted to go 'exploring'...trek from the Perkins Island to the Wolverine River 'with' Forrester, too, when he had the task of leading a reconnaissance into Alaska. She wasn't interested in being a typical 'army wife' -- but it wasn't possible once she knew she was pregnant. -- so for about a year -it was the 'letters' back and forth to each other that feed them nourishment. The letters were marvelous!!!
The letters were a terrific way to experience each of their separate lives -- experience the natural obstacles that they each confronted:
.....Sophie back at home dealing with other gossipy women who stuck their nose where it didn't belong--who tossed their opinions around in others business - giving no respect to others who thought outside their approved-way-of-living.
.....And Colonel Allen's wilderness adventures -often "dangerous and unknowable"....
and dealing with his team of men- the Indians- an old man-the daily hardships with the elements, scarcity of food, and an aching heart for his wife and unborn baby.

The later part of the book especially moved me --closing the gap between Sophie and Colonel Allen. It was clear the difference they each made in the world.

Eowyn Ivey is a formidable storyteller--- Once again, like in "The Snow Child", with exuberant prose, she captures the beauty and intensity of the Alaskan wilderness.

Thank You Little, Brown and Company, Netgalley, and Eowyn Ivey

Profile Image for Esil.
1,118 reviews1,363 followers
November 4, 2016
3.5 stars. I admired To the Bright Edge of the World more than I enjoyed reading it. I’m not sure if I can put my finger on why, because as I write my review I have mostly positive things to say about this book. Essentially, it tells the parallel stories of Colonel Allen Forrester and his wife Sophie in 1885. That year, the Colonel led an expedition into Alaska, while his wife Sophie stayed in Oregon. Their story is told through journal entries, letters, articles, artifacts and photographs. Added as a layer is the contemporary correspondence between Walt and Josh, as Josh transcribes and curates all of the Colonel and Sophie’s papers provided by Walt. I liked the puzzle like way in which the story was put together. I loved Sophie's entries and letters, and her perspective on the place and times in which she lived. I found the Colonel’s narrative about the expedition generally interesting, but at times I must admit that it got a bit tedious. The historical context is fascinating, and Ivey grapples well with complex issues of colonization. The contemporary correspondence between Walt and Josh adds to that context. In the end, maybe it was the length or the long descriptive passages from the Colonel’s diaries that dimmed my reading experience. Or perhaps it was that I had to read this one in fits and starts, and it may be better read in long leisurely sittings to become truly absorbed by the time and place. Many readers seem to love this book. I liked and admired it, but can’t say that it captivated me. Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for an opportunity to read and advance copy.
Profile Image for PattyMacDotComma.
1,485 reviews843 followers
December 16, 2021
I don’t know if I can explain how much I enjoyed this book. I postponed reading it, thinking it might be long and slow, but for me, it was completely absorbing and fascinating.

This may be helped because my mother was a Lewis and Clark enthusiast and had a wonderful leather-bound edition of their journals. I didn’t read them, but I did read some of her other mountain men and fur trapper books and about opening up the American West. “Opening up” from a colonial-European standpoint, that is. I imagine the original inhabitants saw it as an invasion. We have the same conversation in Australia, settling vs invading.

Back to the book. This is historical fiction at its best – based on real people, a real expedition, real circumstances, all lifted and carried away on a magic carpet of imagination and inventiveness. That’s a ridiculous metaphor, I guess, but it WAS quite a ride.

Walter Forrester is 70, has no heirs, and is finding a home for his great-uncle’s papers and journals. The great-uncle was Lt. Colonel Allen Forrester, who explored the Alaskan wilderness in 1885 under extremely difficult circumstances, leaving his young wife back in Vancouver at the army barracks. Walt begins corresponding with the curator of a museum in the small mining town of Alpine, Alaska, near where the exploration took place.

We are treated to the diaries of both Allen and Sophie, his wife, their letters, notes on the artefacts the explorers brought back as well as Sophie’s introduction to photography and her work studying birds. There are also many photographs of the area in the 1880s up to today.

Sophie was desperate to accompany her husband, but she is stuck at home, pregnant. And truth be told, tough as she turned out to be, I don’t think she’d have lasted the distance.

On the other hand, along the way, Forrester and his men attract a hanger-on, an Indian woman and her dog. She wears an otter pelt, and her story is typical of a few unbelievable ones (but who knows???) that Forrester includes in his diary.

Samuelson, who can interpret, relates her story to the men. She said a good hunter had come out of the mountains one year and asked her to join him, so she did. But he confined her to a fishy, smelly cave. Forrester writes:

“He warned her to never leave the den. She was lonely, so one day she tracked him through the snow. After a short time, his prints turned to otter tracks. She kept on them until she came to a bank den. That’s when she saw her husband in his true form – a river otter, being welcomed by his otter wife.

Tillman was disbelieving. I had heard similar stories among Indians, but not such a firsthand claim.

-- They believe it is a thin line separates animal & man, Samuelson said. -- They hold that some can walk back & forth over that line, here a man, there a beast.

-- So what happened?

Tillman sat forward. He reminded me of a small boy listening to a tall tale, begging for what happens next.

-- She went back to their own den to wait for him. When he fell asleep beside her, she cut his throat. In the morning light, she skinned him out. That otter pelt on her shoulders – that there is the skin of her husband.

-- Jesus, Pruitt said.

-- But you don’t believe a word of it, do you? Tillman said.

Samuelson shrugged.

-- What did she say at the last, when she was walking away? Tillman asked.

-- She says the Wolverine River is no place for men like us.”

And she was pretty much right. She continues to trek along behind them as they risk their necks, racing across cracking ice to reach the other side of rivers, nearly starving and freezing to death, sick and miserable.

They also see other mysterious examples of 'man or beast or combination thereof'. They begin to wonder if they're hallucinating because they are so removed from the reality they know.

Ivey tells it like it was – desperately treacherous, and that’s without the threat of a witch doctor, who also seems to haunt them, as well as some Indians who would like to do them in.

But it was the helpful Indians along the way that allowed them to visit this spectacular wilderness to map it for the future. Sadly, it also opened up the country for today’s foresters and miners, and that’s a small part of Walt’s discussion with the curator.

The main story belongs to Allen and Sophie Forrester. While home alone, Sophie yearns to do something, not sit still, and has a hankering to capture light. When she discovers photography, she sees a way to look at things differently. She invents a camera hide and longs to catch a hummingbird on film with the light just so.

The story, the writing, the interspersing of old diaries and today’s correspondence are all beautifully done.

What a fantastic production this is.
Thanks to NetGalley and Hachette Australia for the preview copy from which I've quoted.

I have since read her Pulitzer-nominated The Snow Child, which I also loved, and reviewed here: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...

And thanks to Angela M for including a link to an interview with the author in her review.
Profile Image for Margitte.
1,177 reviews540 followers
November 12, 2016
Eowyn Ivey's new novel is a breathtaking story of discovery and adventure, set at the end of the nineteenth century, and of a marriage tested by a closely held secret.

Colonel Allen Forrester receives the commission of a lifetime when he is charged to navigate Alaska's hitherto impassable Wolverine River, with only a small group of men. The Wolverine is the key to opening up Alaska and its huge reserves of gold to the outside world, but previous attempts have ended in tragedy.

For Forrester, the decision to accept this mission is even more difficult, as he is only recently married to Sophie, the wife he had perhaps never expected to find. Sophie is pregnant with their first child, and does not relish the prospect of a year in a military barracks while her husband embarks upon the journey of a lifetime. She has genuine cause to worry about her pregnancy, and it is with deep uncertainty about what their future holds that she and her husband part.
A vivid, atmospheric, story of a landscape, the people who occupied it, and the effect it had on their lives in the earliest days of uncharted exploration in the late nineteenth century, around 1885.

The book is compiled in a unique way to establish a fictional authenticity that is as much ambitious as it is successful. Dreary and heavily dragging most of the time, it still is a good, informative, well-researched read for those who enjoy Alaskan stories and the mysteries and secrets enfolding its landscape and history.

The two main characters are Lieut. Col. Allen Forrester and his new wife, Sophie. Through love letters, diaries, and a modern day correspondence between a family member and the curator of a museum in Alaska, a tale of endurance, adventure and resilience is told in beautiful prose.

I enjoyed the experience, since I was interested in the wilderness, the natives, the invasion of a wonderland (although for less honorable future endeavors), and the richness of the collective historical environment it offered. It is not a book to be rushed through. The prose is picturesque, rich, and fascinating. It really demands attention and dedication, but it is truly worth the time. I really enjoyed it tremendously.


PS. You can read this interview with the author about this book here https://www.theguardian.com/books/201...
Profile Image for Laysee.
519 reviews250 followers
June 21, 2022
‘All that matters is how a man lives in this world.’
- Eowyn Ivey, To the Bright Edge of the World

The story began as a letter from Walt Forrester to Josh Sloan, the curator of the Alpine Historical Museum in Alaska, concerning the letters and journals of his great-uncle’s 1885 expedition across Alaska. They contained the earliest records of the northern land and its natives, which Walt hoped could be archived.

In 1885, Lieutenant Allen Forrester was commissioned by the US government to undertake a Lewis and Clarke style military expedition. Together with Lieutenant Pruitt, Sgt. Tillman, and Samuelson (a trapper), Forrester was to lead a reconnaissance mission into Alaska Mainland, essentially to map the interior of the Territory and document information regarding the native tribes. The journey down the Wolverine River into unforgiving terrain was fraught with danger. Apparently, the last white men (the Russians) to venture up the river in previous explorations were murdered by the Indians.

For ten days I trooped along with Forrester, his men, a native Indian lass, a dog, and (via Ivey’s vivid writing) lived a thousand horrors in my mind. The Wolverine was a deluge of floating ice blocks, slush, and rolling waters. A canyon they had to trek through could only be navigated over ice and not open waters. I could hardly bear the suffering they endured: cold, hunger, starvation, hostility of the natives, missing home. It got to a point when I could not throw away what little was left of food I was too full to eat when I recalled how desperate the men were for nourishment. To top it off, Forrester had to leave behind in the Vancouver Barracks his wife who was with child.

This epic adventure story of man against nature is also a tender and compelling love story. I grew very fond of Forrester and his wife, Sophie. I looked forward to them receiving word from each other over snail mail across the miles. You have to meet Sophie, a remarkable woman who loved nature and making sketches of wildlife and plants. Like her husband, she too was exploring unknown territory in her uneasy pregnancy. In her own words, “I try not to dwell in the future, which seems a vast and unknown territory.” Her journey of self-discovery was no less invigorating than that of the brave exploration team. For Forrester, this expedition was life-changing: “Only now, as I leave these shores behind, do I begin to try and comprehend: gray rivers that roar down from the glaciers, mountains and spruce valleys as far as the eye can see. It is grand, inscrutable wildness. Never are the people here allowed to forget that each of us is alive by a small thread.”

This novel employed an epistolary format. I derived pleasure piecing together the story from a mishmash of journal entries, letters, newspaper reports, official army reports, greeting cards, photographs, maps, pictures of artefacts, and wildlife illustrations. The first-person narration lent an intimate quality to the writing with the voice of each narrator revealing the impulses that moved them. It made for such a rich reading experience.

For a work of historical fiction that depicted the life of the native Indians (e.g., the Midnooskies), it fittingly included folklore of Alaska and the Yukon, the food they hunted and ate (caribou, anyone?) and their mystical practices. There were a few hints of the supernatural, which were conveyed tangibly when the team traversed the mountain pass that was said to be the dwelling of the dead.

Apparently, this book was inspired by the real-life 1885 journey into Alaska led by Lieutenant Henry T. Allen. It was very well-researched and provided a breathtaking account of Alaska’s raw beauty and brutality.

Read To the Bright Edge of the World. I took an unforgettable trip to the edge of the world and saw the wonders of a beautiful land that I hope to visit one day. I would like to take a boat trip down the Wolverine River.
Profile Image for Rebecca.
3,669 reviews2,661 followers
August 2, 2016
Eowyn Ivey’s intricate second novel weaves together diaries, letters, photographs, and various other documents and artifacts to tell the gently supernatural story of an exploratory mission along Alaska’s Wolverine River in 1885 and its effects through to the present day. If you have read Ivey’s 2012 debut, The Snow Child, you’ll remark once again on her skill in bringing the bleak beauty of Alaska to life on the page and blending magic realism and folktales with a nonetheless realistic view of history.

In March 1885 Lieutenant Colonel Allen Forrester sets out with a small team – including brash Sergeant Bradley Tillman, melancholy photographer Lieutenant Andrew Pruitt, native guides, and Samuelson, a trapper who serves as a go-between – to navigate a previously unmapped portion of Alaska. Back at Vancouver Barracks he’s left his wife of four months, Sophie. Bold and curious, she intended to travel into Alaska with Allen until she learned she was pregnant. Now she passes the months of her confinement – and raises eyebrows among the military wives – by pursuing her amateur hobbies of birdwatching and photography.

Through alternating passages from journals by Allen and Sophie, Ivey contrasts the big adventures of surveying new territory with the smaller adventures of domestic life. Along their perilous journey Allen and his men encounter many legends and incidents they cannot explain: shape-shifters, like the women who morph into flocks of geese or the shaman who takes the form of a half-lame raven; a baby born out of a tree trunk; and a prehistoric creature that guards a lake. As Allen writes in a letter to Sophie towards the end of his journey:
I can find no means to account for what we have witnessed, except to say that I am no longer certain of the boundaries between man & beast, of the living and & dead. It has been a strange experience indeed. All that I have taken for granted, of what is real & true, has been called into question.

A framing story sets the historical narrative in the context of the present day: Walter Forrester has sent his great-uncle Allen’s letters and journal to a small Alaska museum for safekeeping. Initially the young curator, Joshua Sloan, is annoyed at the unwanted donation and the extra work it creates for him, but gradually – right alongside the novel’s readers – he starts to be sucked into the story the documents reveal. Through their correspondence, Josh and Walt develop a touching friendship despite their differences.

Ivey fits the pieces of her epistolary together in a sophisticated manner and makes you care about each of the characters. Sophie and Pruitt, especially, have traumatic backstories that help you understand their behavior. Sophie reminded me most of Meridian Wallace in Elizabeth J. Church’s The Atomic Weight of Love – both are self-taught scientists with a deep love for birds and a determination to live interesting lives even if others disapprove. The novel also brings to mind Maggie O’Farrell’s This Must Be the Place in that it skips back and forth in time and intersperses a central narrative with other documents, including an auction catalogue of relevant objects.

I found Sophie’s voice instantly more engaging than Allen’s shorthand-like style, and it took me a while – maybe 60–80 pages – to warm up to the storyline and characters. I would have appreciated an Author’s Note at the end of the book explaining what, if anything, was based on a true story and which documents are authentic. (As it is, I assume that all the characters are fictional but the explorers’ journey is based on the historical record.) Nonetheless, I can highly recommend this rollicking adventure tale to fans of historical fiction and magic realism.

With thanks to Katie Brown at Tinder Press for the free review copy.

Originally published on my blog, Bookish Beck.
Profile Image for Libby.
594 reviews156 followers
January 5, 2021
Based on the real-life story of Lieutenant Henry T. Allen’s 1885 Alaskan expedition, Eowyn Ivey creates the fictitious character of Lieutenant Colonel Allen Forrester. The fictitious Forrester must share many characteristics with that long-ago adventurer, fortitude, discipline, the ability to capably lead, and the courage and curiosity for the exploration of a heretofore unmapped region. Colonel Forrester has been tasked with exploring and mapping the Wolverine River and beyond to the Tanana River and the Yukon with an eye to the disposition of the Indians that live there and any mineral resources that might be available. Recently married to Sophie Forrester, twelve years younger, they are in love and ready for whatever challenges life might offer.

I’m generally not a fan of the epistolary novel, but Eowyn Ivey makes it work. Letters between the Colonel and Sophie, journal entries, and more letters between other principal characters are arranged in a way that make it a smooth reading experience. The flow was more acceptable than many dual timeline novels with their occasional abrupt transitions. This novel ends up with a dual timeline as well as Colonel and Sophie Forrester’s great-nephew, Walter Forrester, tries to find a home for his great uncle and great aunt's historical documents at an Alaskan museum.

Ivey engenders an authentic experience in the details of the journey of the Colonel and his traveling companions, two army men and a couple of trappers, along with their Indian guides. The terrain, the glaciers, their bouts with near starvation, interludes with tribal peoples, the skin boats they travel in, all suffice to enhance Ivey’s credibility. Of interest are some supernatural experiences rooted in Alaskan tales and myths. These kinds of experiences need another level of credibility at which Ivey mostly succeeds. As the Colonel’s great-nephew, Walter Forrester, writes, “It takes a kind of arrogance to think everything in the world can be measured and weighed with our scientific instruments. The Colonel started out with those sorts of assumptions, and as you will see, it did not serve him well.”

Sophie’s interest in photography is more than a steadying hobby while her husband is away. It becomes a sort of lifeline in which she finds deep meaning. That is one of the threads of what I considered Ivey’s most important themes in this novel...how do we find meaning in life? How meaningful is our life, our death? Sophie’s favorite subjects to photograph are birds. The task she sets for herself is to capture the perfect lighting in a photograph of a hummingbird. The photography of the time was very challenging. Setting up a darkroom, purchasing the needed chemicals from a pharmacist, and the impossibility of stopping action were just some of the difficulties Sophie faced. Sophie needed a precise moment of stillness, so she sought out the bird’s nest. I found all of this intensely interesting because I used to do darkroom development of film and remember the joy and magical feeling of an image appearing beneath a chemical wash.

The undercurrents of emotion that Ivey is able to create in her characters make this a satisfying novel. One character deals with remorse and shame. He becomes almost haunted. The Colonel deals with regrets about promises broken, the challenges of long-distance love,e and the realities of a journey filled with physical deprivations. Sophie’s resilience and loyalty are tested as she strives to make a life that she can call her own. For me, Eowyn Ivey's second novel was well worth exploring.
Profile Image for Michael.
1,094 reviews1,537 followers
February 14, 2017
I loved this adventure tale of an exploratory U.S. Army expedition deep into the Alaskan interior by way of a frozen river, glacier, and mountain pass in 1885, followed by a descent of Yukon River watershed to the northeastern Alaskan coast. We are treated to the pleasures of teamwork of a small company against all the dangers you can imagine in this harsh wilderness and the excitement of first contact with certain Alaskan Native tribes. Rather than stick to a version of a single comparable historical trip by a Lieutenant Allen up the Copper River, Ivey creates from an amalgam of sources and models to make her story capture in microcosm the overall cycle and impacts of the European incursion on the New World. The innocence and bravery of the explorers, the cautiousness and fear of the Natives. The initial ferment of sharing their respective cultures, and the hidden agenda behind the trip in exploiting the resources of the new territories and the seeds of the destructive consequences the ‘gifts’ of civilization, such as commerce and Christianity.

These explorers largely respect Native culture and do not have missionary work in mind. The story is told largely through a collection of journal accounts by the expedition leader, Colonel Forrester, and correspondence with his relatively new wife, Sophie, who anxiously waits over a year for his return while in residence at the Army community at Fort Vancouver. While he is gone, she struggles to fit in with the morally rigid society. Her letters recount how despite a difficult pregnancy she takes up wildlife photography with a passion, creating a scandal by turning her pantry into a darkroom. These materials and physical artefacts from the trip have been collected by Forrester’s great nephew, Henry, who in old age wants donate them to a regional Native Alaskan museum. We experience a friendship develop through his correspondence with a Native curator, Josh.

The warmth of the love relationship of the Forresters and intercultural friendship between Henry and Josh are balanced by darker visions from other characters and apparently supernatural experiences of the company at various points on the trip. The Ewak Natives hired for support and navigation warn the soldiers that the Midnooskie tribe that reside where they are headed practice cannibalism, while rumor has it that this tribe slaughtered a Russian expedition to the region in the 18th century. The scientific officer, Lt. Pruitt, who is charge of navigation, meteorology, and photographic documentation, begins to struggle with madness and nihilism, facilitated by his sense of guilt over his participation in an Indian massacre during his Army career. Another dark figure is a Native guide known as “Man Who Flies on Black Wings” who comes off as a malevolent sorcerer, a man they depend on but have trouble trusting. The elements of magical realism in this tale include some cases that involve this character, while others appear as possibly bizarre hallucinations brought on by near starvation.

To give you an idea of Ivey’s marvelous prose and storytelling skills I now share a passage from Pruitt’s journal at a point where he is finding a path to sanity and redemption:
I am worthless weak coward but more appalling I am only this: a true specimen of humanity.
Once my heart was full and trusting. I believed. A soldier’s shot always true. A soldier’s ways steady and forthright. I would wear that code like a mantle. At Elk Creek [site of an Indian massacre], I came to a hard truth: the mantle is threadbare, the wind passes through it.
I would believe again if I could. In goodness. In magnificence. In simple benevolence. Yet even in these far and icy valleys, mankind is no different, just more poorly armed. Strip away psychometer and sextant, carbines and glass plates, skin shifts and quills and painted faces, and we are the same. Quivering maws. Gluttonous. Covetous. Fearful. We say we worship. A word. A man-god. A fiery mountain. But we worship only ourselves. And we are jealous gods.

For a perspective on the Ewak sorcerer, here we have Sophie writing in her diary about a photographic image from a plate she is printing from the beginning of Allen’s expedition:
He wears a top hat, a black vest, and a great assortment of decorations about his neck. … He is very near to the camera, his head is cocked at a strange angle, and he peers directly into the lens. … His shadowy form, with lame leg and odd tilt of the head, recall the raven that plagued me in the spring.
I have since studied the print with magnifying lens for perhaps longer than was good for me. It is the eyes that chill me the most.

Both Henry and Josh in the contemporary period recognize how the expedition led to settlements spurred by the mining and fur trading industries, resulting in decimation of tribes through disease and destruction of Native cultures through the residential school system. Yet both revel in the potential benefit to descendant Natives to experience a window on how they once were, regardless of the ongoing debate within their communities over future development initiatives that might create jobs at a certain cost to their environment. Josh writes eloquently on his reconciliation with the past:

It’s humanity. We’re complicated and messy and beautiful.

Every detail, about how people dressed and spoke and prepared their meals, is an exciting discovery. I love the idea that women could turn into geese at the edge of a marsh, that a young girl could marry an otter and then slay him for his hide when he was found to be unfaithful …There’s this sense in these stories that we were wrestling with a vibrant and fully spirited land. …
I’m not saying that other world is gone, because I’m not convinced it is. Maybe we just don’t have ideas for it anymore.

After reading great nonfictional narratives like Ambrose’s account of Lewis and Clarke’s expedition, “Undaunted Courage” and Bown’s biography of the Danish-Inuit explorer of Arctic peoples, “White Eskimo,” I was a bit wary of a fictional story that strays far from actual expeditions. But Ivey sold me on the power of her fictional approach, infused as it is with magical fiction elements, to elucidate truth. A great novel I would recommend to most readers.

This book was provided by the publisher through the Netgalley program.
Profile Image for Emma.
986 reviews1,000 followers
October 14, 2016
There's so much in this book to love, but in the end it just didn't quite get me in the way I hoped it would.

As a historian, I am drawn to stories like these, based on real events or incredible places, and formatted as a collection of documents: letters, newspaper cuttings, diary entries etc. Ivey does this well, with an interesting balance between the daily reports of Lieutenant Colonel Allen Forrester and his attempts to navigate the Wolverine River and his wife Sophie, who suffers her own hardships with strength, determination, and an individual spirit apart from her time. Her character was the real draw for me and I was pleased to have her viewpoint taken right up to the end.

Most interesting was the dichotomy between the scientific and the fantastic within the novel. All of the characters had their own way of reflecting the industry and technology of the moment, especially in the mission's aim to map this particular area of Alaska and the use of new methods of photography. Yet interwoven were mythical stories as real experiences, such as the goose woman and the trickster Raven. The author blended the two aspects together successfully, always allowing for the possibility that such experiences were the product of the human mind pushed to the very limit, but at the same time...the possibility that maybe, just maybe these things were actually real.

I'm not sure what has prevented me from giving it a higher rating, except that I finished it without that feeling you get when you've read something great.

Many thanks to Eowyn Ivey, Tinder Press/Headline, and Netgalley for the chance to read this in exchange for an honest review.
February 14, 2018
It is hard to believe that what I just finished reading is fiction. This novel is told in beautiful prose and in the form of diaries, letters and descriptions of artifacts from Alaska, which seem to be something that I would find in a museum. That is exactly where this book starts.

Walter Forrester sends boxes of letters and journals from his great aunt and great uncle’s 1885 Alaskan expedition to Joshua Sloan who is the curator of a small museum in Alpine, Alaska. Mr. Sloan isn’t really sure that his little museum is the right place for these ambitious treasures but he accepts them. Throughout his reading he becomes engrossed in the story and he and Walter form a friendship.

We have several points of view. There are the diaries of both Lieutenant Colonel Forrester and his wife Sophie as well as the letters from the present time between Walter and Joshua. There are letters written to and from Allen and Sophie. Allen Forrester heads up the expedition and charting journey into the unknown territory of Alaska and the Yukon territory. Previous attempts to survey and map this area by a Russian crew didn’t even make it to the half way point.

I had a problem getting into this book. I found the voice of Allen to be dry and very reserved, it isn’t until the end that we get to know what is in his heart, “This is what we will do as soon as I am returned to Vancouver: I will leave the service, as we have planned and I have so long desired. We will pack up our camp your camera too, and we will go to the wilderness, you and I to Yosemite”.

I very quickly warmed to Sophie, truly a pioneer who suffers personal loss only to find purpose in the photographing of Alaskan birds. She is very driven and resourceful and doesn’t fit well with the group of other wives who live in the barracks in Vancouver, she doesn’t like tea parties or knitting groups.

Throughout the journey the men face starvation, incredible cold, an “Old Man” who sometimes takes the shape of a limping raven, what appears to be a lake monster, and many other physical and emotional challenges.

I had hoped that the ending would state what part of this novel was based on historical fact but there were no author’s notes in this ARC copy. I tried researching the author but found only that there was an expedition at this time and place in Alaska.

I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys a true adventure and would advise a comfortable chair and a cup or glass of whatever you enjoy because this book cannot be rushed. At times I wished that the book were shorter but I cannot think of what beautiful parts could be omitted.

I received an ARC of this book from the publisher and NetGalley.

I re-read this book for my book club. It's just as good, if not better, the second time around!
Profile Image for Cathrine ☯️ .
632 reviews349 followers
April 7, 2017
This was such a well developed adventure story. An Alaska version of a Lewis and Clarke-like exploration with more feminine input yet unspoiled by romanticism. Inspired by an expedition led in 1885, the author utilizes fictional journals, letters, and photographs and four alternating narrative strands in epistolary style which all come together in a credible and absorbing tale. As she did in The Snow Child, Ivey leads the reader into to a ruggedly beautiful and brutal Alaskan wilderness but that is where any comparison between the two ends. Those who loved that debut (I did not) might not be as smitten with this one if hoping for a similar style of storytelling. I was captivated yet chose to parallel other books and short stories alongside and took my time. The journey and communication between a husband and his wife left behind spread across six harsh months and I found it more interesting to have them revealed to me at a slower pace. It added to the suspense and intrigue as I was able to identify with Sophie’s frustrating wait, worry, and hope for Colonel Forrester’s safe return.
It richly depicts people not merely trying to survive but determined to find meaning throughout their days and certainly earns its place on best of historical fiction shelves.
Eowyn Ivey is possessed with great imagination and writing skill and this was pure pleasure from beginning to end, especially to anyone in love with wilderness.
Profile Image for Diane.
1,081 reviews2,719 followers
July 1, 2018
This was an enchanting work of historical fiction. I enjoy stories about Alaska, so I was intrigued by this tale of an expedition in the late 1800s.

I had loved Ivey's previous novel, The Snow Child, and was eager to read her latest work. Both books have elements of magical realism, which is part of their charm. I also liked that Bright Edge told the story from three different perspectives: one was a modern-day archivist, reviewing the historical diaries and records from the 1885 journey; another was of Col. Allen Forrester, who is leading the Alaskan expedition; and the third is from Forrester's wife, who stays in the Vancouver Barracks while her husband is away. Together, the three stories help tell a more complete version of what happened on the journey.

Recommended for fans of historical fiction.

Favorite Quote
"It takes a kind of arrogance to think everything in the world can be measured and weighed with our scientific instruments."
Profile Image for Marilyn C..
290 reviews
September 7, 2016
5 Stars for a story that is full of adventure and survival!

In the winter of 1885, Colonel Allen Forrester and his small company of soldiers began a risky expedition up the Wolverine River Valley in the untamed Alaskan Territory. His job was to map the region and gather information from the tribes that they would be encountering. Although they were prepared for this mission, they were also hesitant at what they might encounter, as this is uncharted territory and known to be extremely dangerous.

This book was inspired by the real-life journey of Lieutenant Henry T. Allen and is told through journal entries, letters, poems and pictures with alternating narratives that make the reader feel like they have become immersed in this expedition and time period. I really enjoyed this format of storytelling as it set a different tone than your typical novel and worked well with this type of story.

Eowyn Ivey has written a book that not only has captivating storytelling, but is full of Native American folklore plus a wonderful love story between the Colonel and his wife. Also, I have traveled to Alaska, and felt Ivey, an Alaskan native, captured the rugged beauty of this area extremely well.

Profile Image for Lindsay L.
679 reviews1,322 followers
December 1, 2016
Excellent book! Written in a very unique and clever format. The story felt so 'real' with the journal entries, letters, photos, newspaper articles, etc. I really enjoyed this!
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