Excerpt from To the Bright Edge of the World by Eowyn Ivey, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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To the Bright Edge of the World

by Eowyn Ivey

To the Bright Edge of the World by Eowyn Ivey X
To the Bright Edge of the World by Eowyn Ivey
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  • First Published:
    Aug 2016, 432 pages
    Aug 2017, 432 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Claire McAlpine
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Diary of Lieut. Col. Allen Forrester
March 21, 1885
Perkins Island, Alaska

I do not know the time. The depths of night. It may already be tomorrow. I cannot see my own words, but write as I can by moonlight so as to record my first thoughts. In the morning I may deem it outlandish. For now I am slightly shaken.

I rose moments ago & left the tent to relieve myself. With the moon, I did not bother to light a lantern. I slid my feet into boots without tying laces & made my way into the trees. The only sound was of the sea washing at the beach. It is true, I was barely awake, my eyes bleary. As I turned back towards the tent, I heard a rustling overhead. I looked up into moonlight broken by silver shadow & black branches. I expected an animal, perhaps an owl roosted, but it was the old Eyak Indian up in the boughs of the spruce. His face was obscured, but I knew his spare frame, black hat atop his head. Moonlight glinted off the strange decorations at his neck.

He crouched high in the branches, silent. I do not know if he saw me. I made no motion towards him, half fearing he would fall from the branches if startled.

I would find it a chore to climb the tree, but could if needed. An old man with a lame leg — what could propel him upward? Perhaps he fled from a bear. Could he have climbed the tree in a fit of fear? It does not suit his character. The Eyak seems an unflappable sort. He looked as if he sat comfortably in those branches, perhaps even slept. I am left vaguely uneasy. As if I witnessed a bird flying underwater or a fish swimming across the sky.

March 22

We leave Perkins Island at daybreak, whether we have the men or not. For too long we have postponed on promises from the Eyaks that their men will return from hunting sea otter to join us. We are left with three young Eyaks too young for the hunt & the crippled old man. They say he knows these waters so can pilot us to the mouth of the Wolverine River. I cannot wait another day with the Alaska mainland nearly within our reach. We were weeks delayed by Army affairs in Sitka, only to have fog slow our journey aboard the USS Pinta. All too soon the Wolverine could break free in a torrent of slush, ice slabs, & impassable rapids. If the river runs wide open, we will make it no farther than Haigh's attempt. I fear already for the ice at the canyon.

I write at the tent door. Lieut. Pruitt once again goes through instruments. He polishes the glass pyramid of the artificial horizon & rechecks the movement of the Howard watch. It has become a nervous habit of his that I can understand.

Sgt. Tillman has his own tic. He worries for our food supply. Will we have enough hardtack? he asks three times a day. Says again he is not fond of pea soup, prefers to sledge chocolate up the river. Myself, I pace the shore of this small northern island & look out across the sound. We are men anxious to be about our mission.

The Eyak watches us from where he sits at the base of a great spruce tree, the same one he roosted in last night. The old man is never without his brimmed black hat & gentleman's vest, yet he also dons the hide trousers & shift of his people. His black hair is cropped at the shoulders. At his neck is a bizarre ornament, similar in pattern to the dentalium shells many of the Indians wear, but instead made of small animal bones, teeth, shiny bits of glass & metal. As he watches us, his broad face wears an odd expression. Amusement. Ferocity. I cannot make it out. Even the women & children of the island seem wary of him. The old man glowers, says nothing, only to laugh at inopportune times. This morning Sgt. Tillman slipped on the icy rocks near the row boats, fell hard to his knees. The old man cackled. Tillman got to his feet & went to grab him by his vest collar. The sergeant is no small fellow. Built like a bricks—– house, always on the look- out for a fistfight, the general said as way of introduction. I have no doubt he would make quick work of the old Eyak. — Leave him be, I said, though I sympathized. The old man sets my nerves on end as well. To see him up in that tree in the darkest hours has done nothing to put me at ease. I would take another guide if given choice. The trapper Samuelson will go with us as far as the mouth of the Wolverine. He would be invaluable traveling farther as he knows rudimentary forms of most of the native languages & has traveled much of the lower river. He expects the Wolverine River Indians, the ones called Midnooskies after the Russian, to bring a message from his trapping partner with plans of meeting him at the mouth before they decide where to spend the season. I continue to try to cajole him into joining our expedition, but he resists. No man's land at the headwaters of the Wolverine, he says. He does not fear the Indians' vicious reputation but instead the inhospitable terrain, the unpredictable river.

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Excerpted from To the Bright Edge of the World by Eowyn Ivey. Copyright © 2016 by Eowyn Ivey. Excerpted by permission of Little Brown & Company. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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