I’m one of the millions of tourists that know nothing more about Alaska than what I saw from the veranda of my cruise ship as I enjoyed several hours in just a few of the towns that are now tourist destinations. Heather Lende’s book: News from Small-Town Alaska. Take me further back into the Alaskan wilderness, away from where the tourists roam, to where people live their everyday lives – hunting, fishing, and getting along, and sometimes not, in a town so small and remote that getting there is somewhat of an adventure. There’s no hospital, and with a population of less than 3000, everyone knows your business.
Lende tells the stories of the people from births to deaths in a touching way. Nothing is glossed over – Haines has a darker side like every community, and Lende balances the telling of the town’s story beautifully. She intertwines them with her own family’s – a mom with five kids and husband, who’s active in her community and provides essays for NPR and the Christian Science Monitor, and who write obituaries for the Chilkat Valley News. It’s through these obituaries that the Haines’ story is truly told.
I was especially touched by the story of a woman who built her mom’s casket by hand, the volunteer undertaker, and the loss of a young man to the sea. This was a book that I rushed through because I couldn’t wait to read the next passage and yet dreaded the pages coming to an end – to me that’s the sign of a great book. Is it the actual story of Haines? It’s Lende’s story, and that’s enough for me. The rain, cold, snow, wild animals and the rugged living she portrays are done beautifully.
If you like books about everyday life, ones that remind you that your life isn’t the only one being lived, then pick up this book. It’s a joy to read and would have been perfect on the cruise – it was the most fabulous journey I’ve taken. The scenery was beyond description, and it’s a trip I’d recommend to anyone.
Lende has a website and has posted that she’s working on a second book, about life in Haines and faith –what we believe in but can’t prove. She also posts occasional updates on Haines and current obituaries. Sounds morbid, but it’s not. It’s so life affirming and there are so many people you get the privilege to meet through her obituaries.
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