“Alaska doesn’t forgive mistakes.
That’s what Kachemak Winkel’s mother used to tell him. A lot of mistakes were made that awful day twenty years ago, when she died in a plane crash with Kache’s father and brother–and Kache still feels responsible. He fled Alaska for good, but now his aunt Snag insists on his return. She admits she couldn’t bring herself to check on his family’s house in the woods–not even once since he’s been gone.
Kache is sure the cabin has decayed into a pile of logs, but he finds smoke rising from the chimney and a mysterious Russian woman hiding from her own troubled past. Nadia has kept the house exactly the same–a haunting museum of life before the crash. And she’s stayed there, afraid and utterly isolated, for ten years.
Set in the majestic, dangerous beauty of Alaska, All the Winters After is the story of two bound souls trying to free themselves, searching for family and forgiveness.”
My Thoughts: All the Winters After is not a flashy novel. It is a quiet novel about love and loss, the kind of loss that thoroughly shatters and irrevocably changes you. It is about picking up the pieces of yourself, surviving, and yes, even thriving, after such loss. It is about friendship and forgiveness, finding yourself, and finding peace. And it all is set against one of the most unforgiving and yet most breathtaking backdrops in the world.
The emotion throughout All the Winters After is visceral and raw. Kache may be ten years older but in so many ways, he is every bit the child he was when his family died. His method for dealing with such emotion is equally childish at first as well. His return to Alaska means emotional punches that he must face, while Ms. Halverson’s masterful writing makes sure the readers experience the same emotional punches themselves. The same holds true for all of the characters seeking to move forward and make peace with the past. As they stumble their way forward, readers meet each of their successes and setbacks with the same gut responses as each of the characters. It is a symbiosis that strengthens as the story progresses and one that makes the story truly special.
There is a theme that runs through so many novels set in Alaska, and that is one of self-discovery. All the Winters After is no different, as both Kache and Nadia must discover who they are after having hid themselves away from the world, literally and figuratively, for years. There is something about the harshness of the landscape, the need for primal survival skills, and the very thin line between civilization and nature that lends itself well to whittling away a person’s outer layers to discover the raw human underneath, something that does not occur in other environments. In every novel set in Alaska, the setting becomes another character, an important one for a character’s development.
I mentioned in a previous post how All the Winters After makes me want to move to Alaska and to be a better person and find where I am supposed to be in life. I stand by this statement. Ms. Halverson’s descriptions of Alaska are breathtaking. While she does not shy away from showing the state’s harshness, she writes about all of it in such a way that creates a longing to experience it for yourself. Then there is Nadia. After everything she faces in her life, she still manages to see the world with childlike wonder and enjoyment even though she is anything but naive. She holds no grudges; she does not try to change that which she cannot change. It is an attitude towards life that is stunning in its simplicity and yet has the power to change the world.
As for wanting to find where I am supposed to be in life, Ms. Halverson describes Kache’s and Nadia’s sense of belonging with such clarity that it makes you wish you could be just as certain that you have found your home. In home it means that place where all of your gifts shine brightest, where you are content and where the thought of leaving and trying someplace new never crosses your mind. It is a knowledge that comes to you through the marrow of your bones and is every bit a gift as life itself. That is the longing Kache’s and Nadia’s journey created in me and will create in other readers.
None of these strong emotions would be possible without skillful writing. Ms. Halverson’s evocative sentences connect a reader to her characters and evoke the same emotional responses. Her descriptive passages are equally haunting, and the entire experience is one big gut punch of self-realization and longing.
All the Winters After is not a flashy novel and therefore will not generate the type of buzz it should. Then again, it is the type of novel that will be felt long after other flashier, more suspenseful novels will fade from memory. A gorgeous backdrop for a stunning story, All the Winters After is a gorgeous novel with a stunning backdrop that will make you view the world and yourself differently. You cannot get any better reading experience than that.