Alaska is a novel to please, but not surprise, James A. Michener fans except for one astonishing fact: All the astonishing-beyond-belief stories in the novel are true.
In another novel, fictional characters like Jeb Keeler and Poley Markham, American lawyers who come to Alaska to make their fortunes by means more legal than moral, would be anomalies.
Against the background of Alaska’s real history, the two are almost dull.
Michener begins his tale with Alaska’s prehistoric origins. He focuses, however, on three historic periods: the 18th century when men in sailing ships explored the Pacific coasts, the 19th century when Russia sold Alaska to the United States, which administered it with ineptitude that beggars belief, and the 20th century when World War II revealed to the American government the importance of Alaska to its national survival.
Michener uses his fictional characters primarily to show how “ordinary Alaskans” (the term itself describes fictional characters) lived at various places at various times.
If you want to read Alaska, find a copy that doesn’t come from a library that glues protective plastic dust jacket shields to the inside covers of books: To follow Michener’s story, you need Jean Paul Tremblay’s maps inside the book’s covers.
Alaska by James A. Michener
Random House. ©1988. 868 p.
1988 bestseller #5; my grade: A
©2019 Linda G. Aragoni