Thursday, February 20, 2014

Author Eowyn Ivey visits with Marshall Afternoon Book Club

On a recent winter afternoon, the members of the Marshall Afternoon Book Club had the opportunity to visit with Eowyn Ivey, author of The Snow Child. Twenty enthusiastic readers, and fans of the book, sat around a table with Eowyn’s place marked by her smiling photo as she spoke with the group via speaker phone from her cabin in Palmer, Alaska. The four hour time difference meant that the Virginia readers had just finished lunch, while Eowyn had just gotten her daughters off to school and was set to begin her day.

Since its publication in 2012, The Snow Child has received worldwide recognition and tremendous popularity, and it is now available in more than 30 countries and 20 translations. As a debut novel, even the author was shocked when the book became one of three Pulitzer finalists for 2013

Eowyn admits that life has greatly changed in the last year. While still living with her family in their home in rural Alaska, she no longer works at Fireside Books, the independent bookstore where she worked for many years. When asked about her typical day, she describes getting her daughters off to school and then devoting her mornings to full-time writing.  A new book is in progress. Though disciplined in the process of her writing, Eowyn balances this with her home, husband and daughters. She now travels both near and far to speak to readers about The Snow Child, but her family often travels with her.  

It was while working at Fireside Books that Eowyn discovered a paperback copy of the fairy tale, The Snow Child, a story based on the Russian fairy tale, Snegurochka, or The Snow Maiden.  A voracious reader from childhood on, Eowyn felt that she was always searching for the story that would capture the world in which she lived and imagined. What captivated her about this fairy tale was “the landscape and the role that it played in the telling of the story. Black spruce and dark winters spoke of lonely isolation, and the fresh sparkling snow brought hope and magic.” She goes on to say that “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.” Though working on an unfinished novel at the time, Eowyn could not get the Russian fairy tale out of her mind.  “Snegurochka became my new dream.”  She set aside her nearly completed novel and began writing The Snow Child.  She feels that this is the book that she was supposed to write.

Eowyn’s novel tells of an older homesteading couple who long for a child as they settle in to the harsh wilderness of 1920’s Alaska. Faina, a feral girl, a “snow girl,” emerges from the woods to bring them hope. Is Faina real or is she imaginary? This is the single question that every reader asks of the story, and it is always asked of the author. Eowyn replies by saying that Faina is real, very real, because she plays such a transforming role in the lives of all those in the story. 

The question remains, however, is she flesh and blood or magical? That is not answered.

Eowyn is now well in to her second novel, Shadows on the Wolverine, a story based on an 1885 military expedition that has been called the Lewis and Clark of Alaska. Fred Fickett, a member of this endeavor, left journals and letters that inspired Eowyn. Alaskan folklore and mythology also play a significant role in this newest story.

Our meeting with Eowyn came full circle as we concluded with a discussion of book clubs. She is a member of a small book club of seven friends, and she was interested in what the Marshall group was reading. We, in turn, asked about some favorite books from her club. She mentioned Remains of the Day (Kazuo Ishiguro), Candide (Voltaire), and Two Old Women: an Alaska Legend of Betrayal, Courage and Survival (Velma Wallis). Eowyn is currently reading the popular new title, The Goldfinch (Donna Tartt).

As we said goodbye with a round of applause that traveled from Virginia to Alaska, we wished Eowyn quiet winter hours in her cabin to continue writing her newest book.  All those who have loved The Snow Child eagerly await a return visit to the Wolverine River.

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Happy reading! 
Debbie, John Marshall library 

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