Summary and book reviews of Ordinary Wolves by Seth Kantner

Ordinary Wolves

By Seth Kantner

Ordinary Wolves
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  • Hardcover: May 2004,
    352 pages.
    Paperback: Aug 2005,
    344 pages.

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About this Book

Book Summary

A stirring and vivid novel about a white boy raised among natives on the harsh Alaskan tundra, Ordinary Wolves depicts a life different from what most people have ever known. In its pages, Cutuk, a boy equally uncomfortable in the ways of whites and Inupiaq, tells of his youth and young adulthood: of his father, who brought his family to Alaska from Chicago before Cutuk's birth; of his adopted Inupiaq family; and of the vast Arctic expanse beneath the frozen sky. It is here that Cutuk grows up - hunting, fishing, and living off the land, far away from the grinding, yet beckoning, machine of consumer culture. Dispelling all mythical visions of Alaska, this evocative novel leads readers down its true trails, to feel the icy pinch of cold, to hunker as blizzards moan overhead. And in the twilit spaces from which animals appear are the wolves - and Cutuk's father - living their lives out on the tundra, unobtrusive, unapologetic, uninvolved in the world beyond.

BookBrowse Note: The following Inupiaq words appear in this excerpt:

  • taikuu: thank you
  • mukluks: skin boots (slang) (Inupiaq word: kammak)
  • qusrimmaq: wild rhubarb
  • qaatchia: skin mattress, traditionally caribou hide
  • naluagmius: white people

Chapter One

IN THE BAD MOUSE YEAR-- two years after magazines claimed a white man hoofed on the moon--Enuk Wolfglove materialized one day in front of our house in the blowing snow and twilight of no-sun winter. His dog team vanished and reappeared in the storm. Abe stood suddenly at the window like a bear catching a scent. "Travelers!" He squeezed out his half-smoked cigarette, flicked it to the workbench, wiped ashy fingers on his sealskin overpants. We kids eyed the cigarette's arc--we could smoke it later, behind the drifts, pretend we were artists like him.

"Poke up the fire?" Abe grinned like an older brother, our best friend, no dad at all. "And hide the vanilla." His head and broad shoulders disappeared as he ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. In the beginning of the novel, Cutuk, Iris, and Jerry express great excitement whenever they hear the sounds of "travelers" approaching. How is the idea of "traveler" sounds returned to later in the book? How would you describe the change in feelings such sounds elicit in Cutuk at these later points?

  2. Throughout the novel, and especially during "Part I: The Land," Cutuk wants very much to become Eskimo. One outward, though unspoken, manifestation of this desire is his habit of "flattening his nose." Another is his repeated wish for the material things--the nylon jackets and snowgos--that the younger Eskimos in Takunak desire. But what he has learned from both Abe and Enuk is how to live the way Eskimos used to live. How, then, does he ...
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Reviews

BookBrowse

Ordinary Wolves makes Jack London's Call of the Wild look positively bland; Seth Kantner is the real thing; whereas London wrote most of his books about Alaska while living in California, Seth Katner was born in a sod igloo on the Alaskan tundra and raised simply on the land––wearing mukluks before they were fashionable, eating boiled caribou pelvis, and communing with the native Eskimos of the region.   (Reviewed by BookBrowse Review Team).

Full Review Members Only (320 words).

Media Reviews
Author Blurb Louise Erdrich
I've not read anything that so captures the contrast between the wild world and our ravaging consumer culture. Ordinary Wolves is painful and beautiful.

Author Blurb Howard Frank Mosher
Seth Kantner's novel, Ordinary Wolves, is a magnificent and dramatic evocation of what it truly means to be a human being on North America's last real frontier. Ordinary Wolves is an original and beautifully written novel by a fresh new voice in American fiction.

Author Blurb Barbara Kingsolver
Once in a great while a novel comes along that can shiver right down your bones and show you the world was always larger than you knew. This is just such an astonishing book: exotic as a dream, acrid and beautiful and honest as life, it sweeps back the material curtain of human contrivance to reveal what lies panting behind it. A piece of your heart and some longing, I promise, will stay on in that other place forever.

Library Journal

In poetic detail, first novelist Kantner captures the rhythms and textures of life out beyond civilization in northern Alaska.

Booklist - Donna Seaman

Impressively fluent and probing first-time novelist Kantner tracks a boy named Cutuk's rocky journey into adulthood in an episodic, avidly detailed, and many-faceted tragicomedy of Alaskan life.

Kirkus Reviews

A man's novel full of nature lore and the mechanics of hunting and surviving, but also richly poetic and emotionally engrossing.

Publishers Weekly

As a revelation of the devastation modern America brings to a natural lifestyle, it's a tour de force and may be the best treatment of the Northwest and its people since Jack London's works.

Orion Magazine

Kantner's descriptions stay close to the bones of outdoor Alaska--it's as natural and satisfying as one season melting into another.

New York Times

...a magnificently realized story...smart and authentic...Ordinary Wolves has scope and a style to match its subjects.

ForeWord

Kantner's writing is lyrical--he glides from gritty to the sublime and back again as fluidly as a skater on ice.

The New York Times - Mark Kamine

Seth Kantner's first novel, Ordinary Wolves, is a magnificently realized story about a boy's coming-of-age in a difficult, distant place ... His novel comes across as smart and authentic. It's hard to imagine a better start.

BookBrowse - Davina

Ordinary Wolves deserves to become a classic; don't miss this extraordinary book!

Reader Reviews
John

Ordinary Wolves
I lived in Interior and Northern Alaska for 15 years - hitched up there in 1971 as a teenager. Lived in remote cabins, small towns and survived living in one Native village Went to the university in Fairbanks. I am absolutely amazed by this book. ...   Read More

Wayne

Remarkably accurate
I have never read anything which described bush living in the far north so accurately. I lived in Alaska for 5 years, on Baffin Island for 6, and in remote northern BC for 32, and I kept shaking my head in amazement at how perfectly Kantner evokes ...   Read More

Penny

Love prevails - a story
I can't get beyond this book. Everything I read, see or hear brings me back to the love and the horrors visualized in this book. The voices of the characters ring true. The abysmal cruelties to people and animals chill your soul - I laughed, I cried ...   Read More

Santiago

Ordinary Wolves
All of the people in this book are slobs. Why is it necessary? From the bush to the villages to the city they are slobs. It seems to me novels can be written without portraying constant strife and humiliations and ugliness. I don't think Mr. Katner ...   Read More

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Beyond the Book

In the interview that you can read at BookBrowse, Seth Kantner says that Jack London's writing did influence him to become a writer; however he goes on to say that 'London said when you spat or pissed it crackled and froze before it hit the ground. It never did that when I was a kid––it got to 78 below one time and it never did that!'

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