Sunday, February 21, 2016

An Alaskan Love Story: All the Winters After

Set in the majestic yet dangerous natural beauty of Alaska, "a land that does not forgive mistakes," All the Winters After is ultimately a story of the healing power of forgiveness, of love, and of place. from the publisher

The Story

Alaska offered freedom and new life to Lettie. She had the tenacity and courage to embrace this new world. Even after her son died in a plane crash with his wife and eldest son Lettie loved Alaska. But her youngest grandson Kache couldn't wait to escape. Newly orphaned, he went to Texas for college, giving up a music scholarship for mathematics, the emotion of song writing for the logical work of crunching numbers. For twenty years he left Alaska in the past. But the past persisted in haunting and tormenting Kache.

After a lucrative career Kache was let go from his job. He returned to Alaska and his grandmother Lettie and his father's sister Snag. Snag admits she never dealt with his family home, never gathered the mementos and books, all left to the elements. He races to the cabin expecting to find devastation. Instead he see smoke rising from the chimney and the cabin almost untouched by the passing of time.

A young woman is living in his family home, wearing his family's clothing, and marking the passing of days with a knife on the walls. Nadia has been squatting there for ten years, having escaped from her Old Believer's community and the abusive husband of her teenage marriage. Ten years spent in total isolation, reading Kache's family library and magazines--and the diary left by Kache's mother. Lettie had found Nadia and learned the girl had faked her death to escape a cruel life. Lettie kept Nadia's secret, bringing her food and a puppy. At 98 Lettie is in a wheelchair, trapped in the old age home, leaving Nadia without human support.

Kache tries to connect with Nadia by helping her with the cabin and slowly exposing her to the world beyond the woods. Thinking her husband has left the area, and under Kache's protection, Nadia blossoms into the kind of woman she has always dreamed of becoming. Working in the garden with Nadia, Kache discovers a love for Alaska he never knew as a boy. As they help each other come to terms with their past they fall in love, but the future lures them in different directions. What will they choose?

All the Winters After is a story of personal growth, a mystery, and a suspense story. Most of all it is a love story, the love between people and the love people have for the wild and dangerous land of Alaska.

Spoiler Alert!

The novel caught my interest when Kache returns to Alaska and is confronted by Nadia's occupation of his family cabin. I was compelled to read and find out more about Nadia's history, why she left her family of Old Believers to live in hiding. Kache's family story is revealed by his Aunt Snag and by Nadia sharing his mother's diaries. His parents had their secrets, protecting the boys from cruel or difficult realities.

I found Nadia well drawn, but her transformation too quick. Growing up in a society where women married at age thirteen, followed by ten years in isolation, Nadia has a year with Kache, visits into the modern world, and a computer. Within months, Nadia sports piercings and short hair and dreams of studying film in San Francisco. Also, her commencing on a love affair with Kache after only knowing the abuse of her husband should have included false starts and a slow gaining of trust.

Kache's struggles seemed more in line with his experience. His childhood memories of his family left him with a hatred of his father. He was an exceptionally supportive friend to Nadia, almost idealized. Kache struggles with wanting to keep Nadia from the world.

The author leaves us an open ending; we can decide if love will bring them together again after Nadia sees the world, or perhaps after Kache has had enough of farming and living in an isolated cabin.

Alaska is the big success of the novel. We see the country through Lettie's loving eyes in its alluring majesty and magnificence.

I received a free ebook from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for a fair and unbiased review.

"All the Winters After is a vivid exploration of landscape and community. Sensual, insightful, and deeply affecting...I read this book quickly, compulsively, and thought about it long after I turned the last page." Jilian Medoff, author of I Couldn't Love You More.

All the Winters After
Sere Prince Halverson
Publication February 16, 2016
$24.99 hard cover

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