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Under the Nashagak Cliff, by Mia Heavener.

May 14, 2019

Under the Nashagak Cliff, by Mia Heavener.  Boreal Books, November, 2019.

4 stars

An unusual, insightful novel about several generations of mothers and daughters living in an isolated fishing village on the northern coast of Alaska.

Mia Heavener was born in Illinois and raised in Alaska where she spent summers on Bristol Bay listening to the native women’s stories.  After earning her degree in Civil Engineering at M.I.T., she returned to Alaska where she spent ten years designing adequate water facilities for rural villages.  She also earned a M.F.A. degree at Colorado State University and began to write and publish while continuing to be involved in commercial fishing.

Under the Nashagak Cliff is set in a village on Bristol Bay, the large pristine bay on the northern edge of Alaska, in the last half of the twentieth century.  As the book begins, life there is isolated and very hard.  Slowly contact with the outside world increases.  Supplies can be ordered and shipped in.  Missionaries arrive. Men from various countries come to work the fishing season.  Motors are allowed on the boats working the bay.  But for women, little changes.  Frustration and loyalty toward each other remain.

Heavener does a fine job of capturing the landscape of rural northern Alaska, a region under attention today oil companies again seek to drill around Bristol Bay.  She is also insightful about the changes contact with the outside world brings.  The story she tells help readers better understand not only northern Alaskans, but people everywhere who deal with the pluses and minuses of increased involvement in the global economy.

I recommend this book strongly because it addresses how “modernization” brings or fails to bring meaningful choices. And it is simply a good read.

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