Reading the North

October 8, 2011 

We in Pieces: Tales From Arctic Alaska

By Elizaveta Ristrova (All That Matters Press)

The blurb: The Barrow-based author's novel explores modern-day life in the Arctic and all its contradictions, where 4,000-year-old traditions clash with the latest gadgets.

Excerpt: "Larry's grandfather was an anatquq -- a shaman -- and traditional healer from the village of Point Courage, the oldest settlement still standing in the Western hemisphere. He never converted to Christianity and wouldn't let go of the old teachings. He told Larry that the world hadn't always been so stuck in time and space, and one could move from the physical worlds to that of the spirits, or from the form of man to an animal.

'Why you don't turn into a bird now?' Larry once asked his grandfather.

His grandfather shook his head furiously, and said, 'Naagga -- no, the door is closed. The only way to do it is go back in time, and this is also lost.' Larry's grandfather had heard the tales of whole villages renouncing Christianity and returning to shamanism, but it would not happen here."

Hooked!

Edited by Leslie Leyland Fields (Epicenter Press, $60)

The blurb: This collection of essays and true stories looks to present a fuller picture of commercial fishing in Alaska than that offered in reality TV shows on the subject.

Excerpt: "For five days a southeaster's been blowing twenty-five or thirty knots out of the mouth of the river. In Bristol Bay, everything vertical is an instrument for the wind. The hinges on our outhouse door creak, the abandoned truck at the airstrip clatters its open door, even the bent blades of grass sing. A gray ceiling's clamped down and I can barely see the middle sandbar that's emerged beyond our moored skiffs. This wind works with the outgoing tide, smoothing down the chop. On the flood the real face of the storm will show, when the incoming current will stack waves against wind. We need westerlies to push salmon into the nets on our side of the Ugashik River.

Last year, my husband, Peter, and I spun our index fingers counterclockwise in the air the way Esther had taught us. A Yupik Eskimo from Manokotak, she knows the native traditions for imploring the weather.

'Turn the wind,' she said."

-- Compiled by Matt Sullivan, Anchorage Daily News

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