Kristin Hannah is becoming my favourite author. ‘The Great Alone’ was her third novel that left me in tears. Her storytelling is mesmerising, and once I started reading it, I couldn’t put it down.
“It’s like his back is broken, Mama had said, and you don’t stop loving a person when they’re hurt. You get stronger so they can lean on you. He needs me. Us.”
Set in the 1970s and 80s, this is about a family of three who decides to move to Alaska, America’s last frontier. The story is told by thirteen-year-old Leni, a girl coming of age caught in the stormy relationship of her parents who hopes that the new land will bring a better future for her family. Ernt Albright, her father and a Vietnam veteran, came from war a changed man. He became impulsive, aggressive and unpredictable. He hopes that living off-grid and isolated from everyone else will make him happy again. Cora, his wife, will do anything for the man she loves, even if it means following him into the unknown.
“Alaska isn’t about who you were when you headed this way. It’s about who you become.”
The way Kristin Hannah describes Alaska makes you feel like you are there, experiencing the wild nature and admiring the beauty of the landscape. But there is the other side of it, the cold winters not everyone can survive, wild animals that can come out from nowhere and kill you, shortages of basic supplies. The Allbrights had to adapt very quickly to this new and hazardous environment. They had to learn how to grow their vegetables, kill an animal for meat and protect themselves from the wild and unpredictable nature.
Strong female protagonist
As with all of Hannah’s novels I have read so far, she creates strong female characters who goes through a challenging period in their lives. In ‘The Nightingale’, we have Vianne and Isabelle telling their story about the Nazis’ occupation of France during World War II. In ‘The Four Winds’, we have Elsa, who tells the story of the darkest periods of the Great depression. Here we have Cora and Leni, who tries to survive Alaska and Ernt’s violent behaviour. As a Vietnam veteran, he has PTSD, but unfortunately, in the 70s, no one knew what PTSD was.
I enjoyed the complexity of all the characters Hannah has created. I wouldn’t say I like Ernt for how he is treating his wife and daughter, but on the other hand, he is going through a mental health illness and not receiving any professional help. I felt annoyed with Cora, who decided to stick with her husband, but I cannot even imagine how difficult it must have been for her as a victim of abuse. And finally, Leni, who is so young and so strong, is trying to support and protect her mother and learn the terrible truth: they are on their own, in the wild where there is no one to save them by themselves.