To the Bright Edge of the World is an extremely enjoyable read. It works particularly well due to a combination of viewpoints. The basic story is about Lieutenant Colonel Allen Forrester, who embarks upon the first American expedition to the interior of Alaska, with a small group of men. What makes it compelling are the many angles used to tell the story. There are Forrester’s own journals, the letters to his wife Sophie together with her diary and story as she awaits his return, and alongside these are the modern day events as the current owner of the journals donates them to a small museum in Alaska. The combination of all these narrators makes the whole a marvelous success. It also helps to keep the tale moving along at a great pace, with never a slow moment
Eowyn Ivey made use of some original explorer’s journals when she was researching the book, and these may have helped to lend her work its assured authenticity. You really feel as though you are seeing the scenes and suffering the hardships, as the early explorers would have done. There is one more twist that Ivey employs to bind you deeper into the mystery. A thin trail of the mystical and mythical to follow. Forrester and his team encounter women who in the early light of dawn seem to change into geese, and they are joined on their journey by a Native Indian woman who claims to have killed her husband when he turned into an otter. As if to publically shout, “don’t mess with me”, she wears his otter skin draped around her shoulders. More sinister is the appearance and frequent disappearance of an old shaman, complete with top hat, whom the natives believe turns into a raven. I loved all the hints and possibilities these myths allude to and the way that Forrester and the soldiers refused to believe what they were seeing was real, questioning their own eyes. I am no expert in the history of the Native Americans, but I found the stories of alliances forged and broken with traveling party very authentic. Their ability to exist in the harshest of environments, sometimes on the edge of starvation, kept them tied to their native lands.
One other feature of a book that I always welcome, are illustrations. Old photos from the 1880s, together with modern ones and sketches of animal tracks in the snow, all lending authenticity and helping the modern reader piece together the narrative of the whole region’s past. Descendants of those encountered in the stories went on to become important real figures in the later history of the region, helping blend the fiction with reality.
A great read with never a dull moment in its 460 pages.