Friday, January 25, 2013

The Snow Child

In the fall of each year, the two Marshall Book Clubs set about choosing a list of books for the following year.  The selection process is a joint endeavor that fosters interesting discussions and a vote for those few books that will be the inspiration for our  “year of reading”.  The Evening Book Club chose the perfect winter book for its January selection.  While we were experiencing a relatively warm Virginia winter, The Snow Child, by first time author, Eowyn Ivey, has transported all of us to the ice, cold and rugged landscape of Alaska.

The story introduces us to an aging, childless couple who leave their Pennsylvania farm in an effort to find some greater meaning in the final years of their lives.  They have known their share of sorrows, the greatest of those, the loss of their only child, at birth.  That tiny stillborn child has grieved them through the years.  Their most, unlikely, destination in this quest to begin anew is the wilderness of 1920’s Alaska, where they set out to become homesteaders.  Ill prepared for the harsh realities of their new life, Mabel and Jack begin to drift even further apart.  The farm work proves to be beyond Jack’s strength and knowledge, and Mabel sinks further into loneliness and despair, each day.  There are moments, however, when the beauty and wonder of their new world has the power to captivate them, as on one dark, snowy evening.  In a joyful moment, they build a child out of snow.  In the morning, they awake to find that the snow child is gone, but they spot a young blonde-haired girl running into the woods.  The little girl, who calls herself, Faina, slips in and out of Mabel and Jack’s life.  While delicate and ethereal, Faina seems to be a child of the ice and snow, who is able to survive, alone, in the Alaskan wilderness.  The lonely couple grow to love her, as their own child, but can she really be their own?   Is she even real, or is she a part of a long remembered fairy tale from Mabel’s youth.  Even as the story draws to a poignant close, all questions are not answered with complete certainty.

Most of our readers speak of the book as one with fairy tale qualities, yet, also, a story that vividly describes the beauty and harsh dangers of a world so few of us know.

The Alaskan author, Eowyn Ivey, describes the story as inspired by her discovery of a fairy tale in the book store where she works.  The original story is a Russian fairy tale called “Snegurochka” or “The Snow Maiden”.  Ms. Ivey describes how she was “captivated by the landscape and the role that it played in the telling of the tale.  Black spruce and dark winters spoke of lonely isolation, and the fresh, sparkling snow brought hope and magic.”  She goes on to explain why the story so resonated with her.

“Growing up in Alaska, I’ve at times felt a foreigner in the pages of my country’s literature.  All the books I had read and loved, but not one of them told of my home.  The characters didn’t live the way we did. They didn’t cut their own firewood or hunt their own meals.  The setting was never my backyard, where wild forest gives way to rugged mountains and frozen rivers.  But the setting of the old Russian fairy tale was hauntingly familiar.”

 On the evening of January 28th, the Marshall Evening Book Club will have the privilege of speaking with Eowyn Ivey from her home in Palmer, Alaska.  She will be calling in to our meeting, and all members are looking forward to hearing more about a book that has cast its magic upon all of us.

The Marshall Library has two very active book clubs that provide good reads, lively discussions, field trips and friendships.  The Afternoon Book Club meets on the 2nd Wednesday of the month at 1:00.  The Evening Book Club meets the last Monday of the month at 7:00. 
New members are always welcome!

Debbie C. @ Marshall Branch


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