Pilgrim’s Wilderness by Tom Kizzia and The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah

I had the great pleasure of visiting the state of Alaska.  It is vast, majestic, beautiful, and treacherous.  I cannot imagine what the original settlers endured in their quest for gold, a new life, land; and for some later on peace of mind or freedom from the rules that we all must follow. 

Both of these books chronicle families that are moved to the wilderness of Alaska by fathers that have endured the atrocities of war, want to get away to breathe, make their own way, and not have to pander to decisions made by the government.

Pilgrim’s Wilderness is a true story about Robert Hale, a Texan from a well-to-do family, who through a circuitous route made his way to Alaska.  He seemingly brainwashed or bullied many beyond his immediate family to follow him, allow his bizarre and controlling behavior, and abuse his 15 children.  It sounds grim.  In many ways it is but it also reels you in to their lives.  But then the children begin to see the possibility of leaving him, if not their beloved Alaska, and gaining a right to live without fear.

Kristin Hannah always tells a good tale.  The Great Alone takes us along for the ride as Leni and her mother are taken to Alaska by her father in a VW bus.  He had a hard time adjusting after returning from Vietnam. We know now it’s PTSD.  Even before the war he had difficulties providing for his small family.  They move completely unprepared for the darkness, the loneliness, the lack of bare necessities.  But the community comes to their aid—until he cuts them off.  Mother and daughter do what they need to do to survive.  Loves die and grow. And in the end, Alaska holds the heart of Leni.