Somerville, Mass – Our family has a big adventure coming up this summer: a trip to Alaska! Daddio and I are doing research for our forthcoming book The Last Stand of the Raven Clan. We have already taken research trips to California and Hawaii, but this is the big one. So this summer, I am all about Alaska… eating, sleeping, reading, breathing the 49th state.
I always love to read about the places I travel, especially novels set in the location. The highlight of my Alaska reading has been the novels by Eowyn Ivey, an Alaska-born author. Her novels are steeped in place, as if the entire story springs out of the richness of the setting. Best of all, she imbues her stories with magical realism, as if there is no logical explanation for the beauty and nature and vastness of Alaska. Both novels embrace the mystery, the brutality and the awesomeness of the place–and she doesn’t even try to explain it. It’s like Alaska is one of the fantastic, inexplicable characters in the story itself.
Her debut novel was The Snow Child, a nominee for the Pulitzer Prize. It is based on a Russian fairytale called Snegurochka, or the Snow Maiden. It’s essentially the same story as the fairytale, but this is a novel with complex characters and a harsh, realistic setting. I loved almost everything about this book, except for a few frustrating incidents that seemed disconnected from the rest of the plot. But the writing is rich and wonderful, and the use of magical realism is a newfound love for me.
More recently, Eowyn Ivey wrote To the Bright Edge of the World, a historical novel about a party of explorers traveling across Alaska (based on Henry T. Allen’s real live expedition that took place in the late 19th century). I love how the story unfolds from letters and journal entries and the occasional newspaper article: there is no actual narrative. Again, the mysterious, foreboding landscape is the star of this novel, thanks to Ivey’s evocative descriptions. But also, Alaska is a force that can neither be controlled or explained–a place where nonsensical native folklore is more real than any maps or books or science.
We read To the Bright Edge of the World with my book club and everybody loved it. For my thematic meal (I promised we would eat better than the explorers!) I made an Alaskan dinner of grilled salmon and roasted potatoes. And for dessert… baked Alaska!
I had no idea what this was before I made it. It’s essentially an ice cream cake, covered with merengue. The merengue is an insulator, so you can put it in the oven (for a short period of time at a very high temperature) to toast the peaks. I used this recipe, and it was a crowd pleaser!