978-0-06-250382-4 / 9780062503824

The way of the shaman


Publisher:Harper & Row



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About the book:

From Kirkus: One small part of Alaska, 1867-1974--in a highly fragmented, unfocused saga that, while respectably written, veers uncertainly between the drably gritty and the cheaply melodramatic. The two earliest sections are by far the best. First Nadia Karimoff, illegitimate child of a Russian convict and an Alaska Indian, tells how she was stolen and raised by Russian missionaries, then sold as a servant to Noah York in 1867 (just as the US is buying Alaska); and, when Noah's fiancee refuses to stay in his wilderness cabin, freed servant Nadia reluctantly marries him, though she's in love with a rebel Tlingit chief whose son she bears just before Noah's violent death. Then, in the 1890s, Swedish-born Ulla of San Francisco comes to raunchy, Gold-Rush-era Sitka to kill the claim-swipers who murdered her husband Gunnar, but she meets Nadia (now matriarch of a canning clan) and weds Nadia's son "Yo" York; and then, after Ulla has indeed shot one of those villains, supposedly dead Gunnar shows up! Narrator #3, in the 1920s, is Catherine, daughter of Yo and UIla, who has married into a Seattle family but watches as her bankrupt husband uses the York salmon/lumber setup as a front for bootlegging. Next, 1934-1942, Yo's old Eskimo chum Tommy reports on York family tensions (Yo catches son Carl getting lewd with Catherine's daughter) and on Nadia's funeral. And finally, in 1966-1974, the narrator is poor-girl Donna Lee Douglas, who has an almost-consummated crush on Yo's grandson Ivan (Sitka's top tycoon, Pipeline advocate, and aspiring politico); but after learning that she's Ivan's daughter, she joins her newsman-lover's quest to expose York Company wrongdoings (drug-running, foul motives behind the Pipeline push). And, despite some lapses, the telling is agreeably straightforward and detailed. Unfortunately, first-novelist Harris has provided none of the thematic shaping (family-wise or Alaska-wise) that gives such sagas momentum, sweep, and ultimate satisfaction.

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