The Great Aloneby Kristin Hannah Published 06 Feb 2018
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|Publisher||St. Martin's Press|
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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 strong men 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.
"The Great Alone" Reviews
“Were you ever out in the Great Alone,
when the moon was awful clear,
And the icy mountains hemmed you in
with a silence you most could hear;
With only the howl of a timber wolf, and
you camped there in the cold,
A half-dead thing in a stark, dead world,
clean mad for the muck called gold;
While high overhead, green, yellow and
red, the North Lights swept in bars? —
Then you've a hunch what the music
meant. . . hunger and night and the stars. “
( From The Shooting of Dan McGrew by Robert W. Service)
It's to the wilderness of Alaska, this "Great Alone", a most fitting description, that Leni Allbright and her parents go, seeking yet another place that her mother hoped would be the place that made her dad happy. Kristin Hannah with vivid descriptions takes the reader here and while I've never been to Alaska, I certainly felt as though I was. Ernt Allbright, a POW who returned home from Vietnam a very different man could never keep a job and moved his family from place to place, clearly suffers from PTSD. It isn't until they move to Alaska that 13 year old Leni , realizes just how bad things are and the imminent danger in their lives. I couldn't help but love Leni. She's wise for her age recognizing what might set off her father's rage. As she grows and her character develops, into a strong , amazing woman in spite of all the tragedy and heartache, I loved her even more. My favorite passage is from Leni's college application several years later: "Books are the mile markers of my life. Some people have family photos or home movies to record their past. I've got books. Characters. For as long as I can remember, books have been my safe place. I read about places I can barely imagine and lose myself to journeys to foreign lands to save girls who didn't know they were really princesses. Only recently have I learned why I needed those faraway worlds."
Leni has a loving bond with her mother and together they try to survive this place with the freezing, treacherous, winters and the most terrifying of dangers that they face within the cabin where they live - the mental instability, the volatility combined with alcohol, and violence of her father as he wreaks havoc in their lives and the people of the town. It is the friendships that Leni and Cora make with a fabulous cast of characters that help them survive it all. Large Marge was my favorite but I also loved Matthew who was the only friend Leni could remember having in her life. This is more than a coming of age story. It’s about the reality of post war PTSD, the awful reality of spousal abuse, about the sense of community, of belonging, about survival not just in the wilderness of Alaska but in life in with challenges that seem insurmountable. I don't often cry when reading a book, but this was one of the times. It's gripping, gritty, heartbreaking and hopeful and illustrates the versatile storytelling of Kristin Hannah.
It was impossible for me to forgive Ernt, even knowing that he was a POW, but he brought to mind the POW's bracelet I wore for a long time. I remember his name but out of privacy and respect for him, I won’t mention it here . I’ll only say that he was captured in 1971 and thankfully released in 1973. This book prompted me to search for him online. It appears that he stayed in the Army and then after retirement went on to the private sector. I hope he has had a peaceful, happy life.
I received an advanced copy of this book from St. Martin's Press through NetGalley.
There’s gold, and it’s haunting and haunting;
It’s luring me on as of old;
Yet it isn’t the gold that I’m wanting
So much as finding the gold.
It’s the great, big, broad land ‘way up yonder,
It’s the forests where silence has lease;
It’s the beauty that thrills me with wonder,
It’s the stillness that fills me with peace.
This book got me to thinking about why I read and at times it would seem I have as many answers as there are moments to consider them..
For me I guess it all began when I was a child. Back then I read to escape. To slip silently, unnoticed, away from the here and now.
Kristin Hannah took me to Alaska and I loved every moment I spent with her, within The Great Alone.
As the story opens we meet the Allbright family. Leni is but thirteen in 1974 when her father Ernt comes home with one of his bright idea smiles and tells them he has been left a parcel of land from a deceased war buddy. The land is in Alaska. Leni’s parents share a passionate, tumultuous relationship. But her father Ernt has not been the same since his return, from the Vietnam War. These days he is always on edge, always bristling; he drank too much and had bad nightmares. The worst part was how quickly he angered, and how often he angered. Without the slightest provocation, especially when he drank, which he did, often.
But Ernt is convinced that things will be better in Alaska, the last frontier, free from the daily demands of civilization, free to live off the land and enjoy nature’s bounty.
I have lived in Ontario’s north country, well at least as far north as any road would take you at that time. An isolated post, the government called it. From there we flew further north still, into the native reserves and the magnificent, spell binding, haunting, silent beauty of the north land. Breathtaking and oh so deadly. I have laid under the summer stars and stood frozen, blinded by the winter landscape, kidnapped by the northern lights. Captive and amazed. Even now words fail me. Still I was seriously way south of places like Alaska.
It is really hard to put my finger on the magic that Hannah has created here but I’m going to try and I guess the best place to start is with her characters. I was first introduced to Hannah’s ability to flesh out characters when I read The Nightingale, so I should not have been so surprised at the talent on display here. Her people, the good and the bad, come alive on these pages and fixed themselves firmly in my minds eye. I loved Large Marge and was so positively crushed by Leni’s father Ernt that I found myself forgetting to breath when he was around. And there are more, not the least of which is Leni herself, bound by circumstance to a harsh, resplendent world and an untenable future. Both captivated by and victim to this unrelenting and unforgiving land and her parent’s toxic relationship.
I find myself thinking of Alaska as one her characters, it is such a big part of this story and Hannah’s ability to take me there both baffles and astounds. There is no one passage I find myself wanting to share to further demonstrate this skill, no it doesn’t lie in one or even a handful of passages. It is just there, hidden almost, behind every word, carved out over time and painted with slow, vivid strokes; cut on the very edge of the often lethal, always brutal and delicate artistry of nature’s awesome bounty and sweeping, panoramic vistas.
Oh my. I am far less than equal to the task of relating the awesome power of this novel. You will not want to miss it.
Five fully captivated stars.
As an added bonus Hannah had me pulling Robert Service (talk about an ode to the North) off my bookshelves and once again exploring his spells of the Yukon and other musings. It was like visiting with an old and trusted friend, one that helped inform my own poetic coming of age. Priceless!
My reviews can also be seen at: https://deesradreadsandreviews.wordpr...
Wow!! This was a FANTASTIC novel. There’s no way anyone could have pried this book from my hands while I was reading it.
Kristin Hannah is one of my favorite authors and I am always excited when a new book is going to be released. When I found out that her new book, “The Great Alone” was set in Alaska in 1974 (the year I was born); I was itching to get reading.
As the book opens, we meet the Allbright family. Ernt, Cora, and their daughter, Leni. Thirteen year old, Leni is listening to her parents arguing. The terrible weather has brought out the darkness in him again. It hadn’t always been like this. Before the war they were happy. When he finally came home, Leni saw nothing of the laughing and handsome man she once knew. He had nightmares and trouble sleeping. He was moody and quick to anger….so very quick to anger.
It’s not just the Allbright family that’s struggling. Morale is at an all-time low and gas prices are at an all time high. The world is in crisis. People are scared with everything that’s been happening. Bombings, hijacked planes, and now college girls in Washington State have been disappearing. Danger is everywhere.
But then her dad comes home with his “Big Idea” smile. A friend who died in the war left him some property in Alaska. Her father is ecstatic. It’s a place where they can live a decent life…away from all of the madness. A simple life on land that they can live off…grow their own vegetables, hunt, and be free.
“I need this, Cora. I need a place where I can breathe again. Sometimes I feel like I’m going to crawl out of my skin. Up there, the flashbacks and shit will stop, I know it. We need this. We can go back to the way things were before ‘Nam screwed me up.”
He promises he’ll do better, that he’ll cut down on drinking. Leni has seen this all before but she won’t put up a fuss about moving again. She’ll do as she’s asked.
“Because that was what love was”
The trip to Alaska was almost like a family vacation. It was amazing and Leni was truly happy. Her dad even laughed and smiled. He was like he was “Before”. However, when they arrive in Kaneq, things are different from what they imagined. There’s a tiny cabin with a rotted deck, a yard full of old animal bones, and junk as far as the eye could see. No TV, no electricity, no running water. But Leni can handle all of that. She’ll make the best of it, especially if it helps her Dad.
“And he’ll be happy this time”
Two types of people come to Alaska, people who are running to something or running away from something. With no police station and no telephone service, Alaska gives new meaning to the word...Remote.
“Alaska herself can be Sleeping Beauty one minute and a bitch with a sawed-off shotgun the next”
Most people are welcoming and helpful, though Leni wonders if some may not be so good for her father. People like Mad Earl and Clyde. “ Drinking whisky and eating hate” When they talk about what’s destroying America, when TSHTF, and “ The rich, riding on the backs of better men ” it makes Leni nervous.
The Allbright’s settle in and Leni starts to wonder if things might actually be okay. Unfortunately, it’s not long before she sees things haven’t changed. In fact, things seem to be getting worse.
Could the darkness and the danger in her home be more treacherous than the worst Alaskan winter?
Kristin Hannah has done it again!
I loved this book. An entertaining and emotional read with an engrossing plot and well-developed characters. I could almost feel the bitter cold from the long isolating winters. But I could also see the beauty of Alaska with its gorgeous mountains and blue skies.
Hope, love, and memory can keep you stuck. The 1970’s, a time when a woman still needed a man’s signature to get a credit card. The lack of understanding and assistance available. They called it “Gross Stress Reaction” or “ Battle Fatigue” back then… the horrible flashbacks and nightmares, the anxiety and anger, the inability to cope with regular life. Now it’s called PTSD post traumatic stress disorder or PTSI – post traumatic stress injury . Soldiers, who gave everything to the war, then came back to a world that many of them couldn’t function in, a world that didn’t know how to help them heal.
“The Great Alone” does not disappoint. This was another fascinating, thought-provoking, and captivating read. Heartbreaking at times... but there were also moments of great love and unbelievable kindness. A gripping story where I was desperate to know what was going to happen next. A bittersweet but satisfying ending topped off this amazing read.
Thank you to St. Martin’s Press for providing an advanced readers copy of this book for me to read in exchange for my honest review.
Alaska, 1974: This is the story of the trials and tribulations of the Allbright family. Life has not been easy for Ernt, Cora or their daughter Leni. Ernt is a POW, home from Vietnam. He is now prone to fits of anger and extreme violence. Ernt considers alcohol to be his savior – yet for his wife and daughter, it is the devil.
After coming home from the war, Ernt feels as though he doesn’t fit in anywhere and that everyone is against him. In an incredible turn of events, a home is bequeathed to Ernt in Kaneq, Alaska and he feels that it is has last chance. Wanting to make him happy and keep him calm, Cora and Leni agree. The move is one for which they are wholly unprepared. Winters are fierce, harsh and absolutely terrifying. There are only 6 hours of sunlight a day, and the conditions are dire.
The atmosphere and the wilderness however, give something to Leni Allbright that she has never had before, peace and solitude. If only it was enough. Cora is a woman who fell very hard for a man who treats her the way that no woman should ever be treated. Her family is trapped in a vicious cycle, one whose demons it seems impossible to out run, even after having reached the ends of the earth.
“The Great Alone” is a novel so full of beautiful, vivid descriptions that I could close eyes and see the land, the mountains, the water: the immense beauty that is Alaska - even though I have never been there before. The characters are captivating and rich. They made me so very anxious at times, I couldn’t help but clench my fists and hold on for dear life, yet they also made me love. “The Great Alone” is my first Kristin Hannah novel – it will not be my last.
This was Traveling Sister Read. The discussion for this book was very lively and full of emotion. I was glad to have my sisters close while I read it!
Thank you to NetGalley, St. Martin’s Press and Kristin Hannah for an ARC of this novel in exchange for an honest review.
Published on NetGalley, Goodreads, Amazon and Twitter on 2.17.18.
I think Kristen Hannah is like a fine wine. With each new novel, she gets better and better.
Thirteen year old Leni and her parents move to the Alaskan wilderness as a possible solution to her dad's illness. He suffers from PTSD having returned from Vietnam broken, with an extreme vision and little survival skills.
Once the harshness of winter sets in, the human spirit is tested in a family whose relationship is already in a delicate balance; the lack of daylight brings with it the challenges of isolation and survival. The darkness envelopes them and tempers are shorter. Abuse becomes the weapon of choice for her father to battle the inner demons that visit him almost daily.
The sacrifices both her and her mother make as a means of survival come at a high cost. Even love is a threat in this environment. The wildness of Alaska will either break them or strengthen who they are and who they will come to be.
This is Hannah's crown jewel. 5⭐️
One thing is for sure, Kristin Hannah, hands down, is a talented author who can weave a tale. I have read many of her previous novels and always found them to be beautiful and thought provoking. This one, however, rubbed me the wrong way.
Forewarning: This storyline deals with a lot of heavy issues, the most serious and horrific, physical abuse. I am trying my best to keep spoilers out of this review.
Just so you know where my thoughts are coming from, I am the wife of a twenty-seven year military veteran, and I initially connected with this story and my heart ached for the family whose lives were changed forever due to the traumas of war, but then I became perplexed and then disturbed with where the storyline was heading, especially regarding the actions of the father, named Ernt. In a manner of speaking, I wasn’t buying what was being sold. The “explanation” of his actions, one in particular, which he committed over and over again, wasn’t resonating with me at all.
The BEFORE “Nam screwed him up” excuse Ernt’s wife invariably gave, wasn’t cutting it. Numerous times the wife would say to their daughter ”I wish you remembered him from before.”
Yes, we are told Ernt was a Vietnam POW; he doesn’t do well in the darkness; he suffers severely from nightmares and flashbacks. Yes, he drinks way too much. But to basically make the case his ‘PTSD’ turned him into the monster he became, did not sit well with me. It never made any sense to me why Ernt’s actual thoughts were never revealed, only that his wife and daughter could see something was brewing in his eyes. He acted out in horrible ways and then apologized profusely, time and time again.
As a side note - nowhere, in this author’s acknowledgments at the end of the book, did she thank a psychologist/psychiatrist who deals with patients with PTSD for his or her expertise. I take that to mean she didn’t seek out their input, but I could be wrong.
Sorry if this sounds more like a rant than a review :(
There are thousands of 4-5 star ratings for this book, and I definitely understand why. The writing is flawless, the descriptions breathtaking, and as one would expect from Kristin Hannah and as I already stated, she can weave a story like few others. I am certainly in the minority only giving 2 stars.
MAYBE if I wasn’t the wife of a military vet, who unfortunately saw more than his fair share of war, and maybe if I didn’t relate to many of the issues Ernt was dealing with ...... maybe I would have given this a much higher rating.
Your experience with this book will most likely be totally different from mine, so I urge you to read the 5 star reviews. I will definitely continue to read Ms. Hannah’s future releases!