‘To the Bright Edge of the World’ by Eowyn Ivey
Winter 1885. Lieutenant Colonel Allen Forrester accepts the mission of a lifetime, to navigate Alaska’s Wolverine River. It is a journey that promises to open up a land shrouded in mystery, but there’s no telling what awaits Allen and his small band of men.
Allen leaves behind his young wife, Sophie, newly pregnant with the child he had never expected to have. Sophie would have loved nothing more than to carve a path through the wilderness alongside Allen – what she does not anticipate is that their year apart will demand every ounce of courage of her that it does of her husband.
To The Bright Edge of The World was inspired by the real-life journey of Lieutenant Henry Allen into Alaska in 1885 and tells the story of an expedition up the Wolverine River in search of passage through the mountains. It is an absorbing tale of a western explorers meeting with the First Nations people who had lived on the North American continent from time immemorial, a people steeped in myth and superstition at a point where their way of life was coming into conflict with one which was so very different to their own; a conflict in which we see that there will only be one final ‘victor’.
In her novel Ms Ivey has brought the stunning Alaskan landscape to life and peopled it with characters who are not only searching for a route across the land but are also searching for the truth within themselves. One can almost feel the cold and hunger which the early explorers of the wilderness endured, the nervousness with which they came into contact with the native peoples, the struggle for understanding when there was not always a common language between them, the fear that they might not make it back alive.
As the fictitious Allen Forrester makes his way through the northern forests his wife, Sophie, has remained behind. She is strong-willed, determined, a lover of nature; more than anything else she would have liked to travel part of the way with Allen but cannot because she is pregnant. As her husband encounters a changing world in which superstition and the natural world order are being slowly but surely changed by encroaching westernisation Sophie finds herself at an equally interesting point in the way women see and are seen. She finds it difficult to settle into what is expected of an officer’s wife on an army base and feels constrained by societies expectations of what she should and should not be allowed to do. Whilst her husband faces the trials and tribulations of the north Sophie has her own challenges which leave her, for a time, wondering where her life will take her. But Sophie also has an interest in photography which was just becoming popular, and I very much enjoyed reading about the development of this art form in the 1880’s, how Sophie experimented and persevered to try to achieve a particular type of photograph which is still not easy to achieve today.
I also enjoy the way that the author has used old black and white photographs of some of the key places in her story to bring the narrative alive and make it all the more believable to the reader. The photographs along with the colourful descriptions of people, time and place serve to immerse the reader in a world which is long gone yet which was so full of wonder, excitement and mystery at the end of the nineteenth century. I found myself wishing I could have travelled with Allen on his journey or gone with Sophie on her no less important journey into the art of photography, and into the heart of what makes us who we are.
To the Bright Edge Of The World can be found on Amazon
You can find out more about Eowyn Ivey here
You can find more of my Recommended Reads here