The Snow Child – Eowyn Ivey

The Snow Child was a recommendation from Amazon while I was browsing for something else. I was skeptical, but I liked the cover and the synopsis and so ordered it on a whim. I think it is slated as fantasy, but it reads like a serious, grown-up person story as well to me.

It is loosely based on a Russian fairy tale about an old man and woman who are childless and make a snow child who then comes to life. There appear to be many versions of this tale and almost all of them end in tragedy. I desperately wanted this book to go for a happy ending but that seemed too easy a solution considering its origins. For some reason, I always remember the Russian folk tales to be dark and sad. And so, it’s a sad story – one of those that happen to people everywhere and are a part of the fabric that life weaves around us all – and yet extremely beautiful in its execution.

Jack and Mabel, following the loss of an infant child, move to the Alaskan frontier in hopes of building a life that is completely new. They seem woefully unprepared for the harsh weather and the back-breaking hard work that  the land demands from them. Jack wants to keep Mabel with some semblance of luxury by not allowing her to work in the fields at all, like the other farmer’s wives. While one can sympathize with Mabel’s loss and her pain, Jack was the one who I felt really sorry for. Uprooted from the middle of a large and loving family to the middle of nowhere and then facing financial ruin because the work is too much for him to do alone. On top of that, he must try and keep a happy façade for the wife who seems to be teetering on the verge of an emotional breakdown.

Into this situation steps Fiana, a child of the woods. While Jack becomes familiar with her story early on, Mabel begins to believe her to be a manifestation of her deepest desire. As they come to terms with  this strange child’s uncanny ability for survival in the harsh Alaskan landscape, they begin to love her with a devotion which is that much more fierce because it is so precious.

The descriptions of the Alaskan countryside are breathtaking and a bit scary at the same time. The author has managed to paint the scenes with what appears to be devastating accuracy. One can only lift one’s hat to the people who survive and live in such remote regions. Faina remains as much a mystery to the reader as she remains to all those who come to know and love her. One wonders whether it really is possible for a child to survive as she does in the Alaskan wilderness, but miracles do happen.

It is almost clear from the beginning where this story is leading, but the end still seems too soon. The one clear message of the book seems to be one of the oldest ones – that life goes on. Through all the pain, love, heartbreak and joy, it keeps moving relentlessly forward and takes us with it willy-nilly. Some of us end up bruised and battered at the end of the ride while some of us ride the waves better.

A nice book and a bit of a tear jerker, but still a cosy read for a winter day.


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