Alaska is a Michener novel

Alaska’s physical features and main modes of travel are suggested in the image on the novel’s dust jacket
Geography guides Alaska’s history

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.

map inside front cover of "Alaska"
Jean Paul Tremblay’s maps are essential to understanding the novel
Alaska by James A. Michener
Random House. ©1988. 868 p.
1988 bestseller #5; my grade: A

©2019 Linda G. Aragoni

Value of Ice Palace Has Melted

Edna Ferber dazzled readers in 1958 with Ice Palace, a tale that went behind the headlines of Alaska’s fight to become a state.

The story is about Christine Stone, a beautiful and brainy young Alaskan woman brought up by her two grandfathers, both Alaskan pioneers. Grandfather Thor Stone is passionate about the land and its people; Grandfather Czar Kennedy is passionate about getting rich from Alaska’s resources.

Czar is maneuvering to get Chris to marry Bay Husack, son of one of his wealthy “outside” friends. He wants Bay to be the first governor of Alaska and then become President.

Thor is working equally hard at undermining Czar.

The future of Alaska hangs in the balance.

Yeah, right.

Ice Palace is part travelogue, part tract. Ferber takes readers through Alaska with the enthusiasm of Rick Steen, then lambastes corporate greed with the zeal of John Bunyon. Even the names Thor and Czar are reminiscent of the symbolic names in Pilgrim’s Progress.

There are some interesting factual tidbits in Ice Palace, but if you want a plausible plot and believable characters, you’ll have to look elsewhere.

P.S. The guys in the white parkas win.

Ice Palace
by Edna Ferber
Doubleday, 1958
351 pages
1958 bestseller #7
My Grade: C-
© 2007 Linda Gorton Aragoni