||Far Eastern Press
||Feb 12, 2005
Fairbanks Daily News-Miner/Peninsula Clarion:
Web posted Thursday, May 12, 2005
Kenai Peninsula Online
From the bookshelf: Powerful novel portrays cultures'
By SHANA LOSHBAUGH
The theme of star-crossed lovers is as old and universal as any in
the world's storytelling traditions. Lesley Thomas conjures up a
startling new variation in her impressive debut novel, "Flight of
Kayuqtuq, "the red fox," also called Gretchen, narrates the tale
of the man who both destroyed and saved her life. His name was
Leif Trygvesen; he was a field biologist, and he came north to
search for an elusive endangered goose. Instead, he found
He writes in his diary: "Ran into a strange girl asleep in the
heather. I don't know what goes for normal here but she seems
churlish and unhappy and like some kind of malnourished and
disheveled stray. Who am I to talk ... ?"
The story is set in the early 1970s, on the shores near the Bering Strait and in the fictional
Inupiat village of Itiak. It is a time of sorrow, war, harsh racism and painful change in the
Kayuqtuq is an outcast among the villagers. An orphan, neglected and molested, she was
taken in years before by the respected Ugungoraseok family. She has two more strikes against
her: she is not Inupiaq but a despised "itkiliq" (Indian), and she studies the ancient but now
taboo path of shamanism.
In a mean mood, she resolves to take on the white "birdman" as a project, intending to
challenge his scientific worldview with her supernatural powers.
But Trygvesen confounds her expectations and those of the villagers. He, too, is an outcast of
sorts. A hippy, a conscientious objector, the gentle son of a cruel father, he is not like other
white men who have come to the village. Although they initially deride him as a fool for
counting bird droppings, his quiet respectfulness gradually wins people over.
For the first time, the wary Kayuqtuq finds herself ensnared by a greater power than her own.
She and Trygvesen are drawn to each other despite themselves. Alternately mesmerizing,
astonishing and terrifying each other, they are pulled into a tumultuous liaison.
"Someone was skillfully pulling sinews from inside me and joining them with his, lacing and
forming a mysterious cat's cradle that moved and altered each second," Kayuqtuq tells us. "I
was hooked like a minnow by his eyes; I was swimming in him, though I didn't know how to
Their fears and desires unleash social and spiritual forces beyond their understanding and
control, forces that engulf everyone close to them.
A tale of passion and otherworldly spirits could lead a lesser writer astray, succumbing to the
preposterous or overwrought. But Thomas focuses her story with skill, using understatement
and humble details to keep it on track. With exquisite pacing, she brings the reader into the
storm of her characters' lives.
The author weaves a strong and complex story. She adroitly includes history, sociology,
anthropology, biology and religion, all rendered personal. She addresses relations among the
races, between the genders, between science and mysticism, among others. Without
contrivance or name-dropping, she includes poetry quotations, allusions to other literature and
references to Norse and Native American mythologies. She peels away layers of preconception
and uncovers facets both dark and bright.
Beneath the tale lies a strong description of the living landscape and through it runs an electric
current of eroticism.
The book's only significant weakness is the foreshadowing, which detracts from the element of
surprise. Also, some readers may find Trygvesen's compliant nature effeminate.
On one level, "Flight of the Goose" is reminiscent of "Wuthering Heights," with the Alaska
tundra replacing the British moors.
On another, it begs comparison with last year's notable Bush novel, Seth Kantner's "Ordinary
Wolves." The inner and outer worlds of both books overlap, but they are quite different in plot
and tone, most notably due to the female perspective in "Flight of the Goose." Taken together,
the two novels suggest a great creative inspiration from Northwest Alaska.
It takes a gutsy white writer to try to write sincerely from a Native viewpoint. Thomas conveys
authenticity and sympathy.
She grew up in an Inupiat village, has Native relatives and participated in many traditional
activities described in the book, according to information from the publisher. Her choice to tell
the tale in the paired voices of Kayuqtuq and Trygvesen, each slightly outside their respective
cultures, each revealing misunderstandings and deeper understandings, was a wise one.
Thomas has given us a haunting book, rich with nuance and ambiguity. Beyond the strong
characters, exotic plot and masterful prose, it challenges our worldview and touches the heart.
Jack Dalton, Yup'ik storyteller and playwright
Review of “Flight of the Goose: A Story of the Far North” by Lesley Thomas
Review by Jack Dalton, Alaska Native storyteller, writer and teacher, Yup’ik/German (review originally in "Insurgent 49" newspaper
"It is difficult to be an ambassador, especially between two unbelievably different worlds. In this case, it is the modern world and the world of the Inupiat Eskimo of Northwestern Alaska of not so long ago. Between these two worlds, everything is different: Language, communication (that which is beyond language alone), philosophies, customs, morals, values, spirituality, food, relationship with the environment around us, ways of seeing the world, ways of interacting with the world, roles of men and women, community, privacy, ownership, ways of education, measures of intelligence, houses, transportation, medicine, and even the way in which one takes a crap. Everything is different.
So, to be an ambassador between these two worlds is a daunting, even hellish task. There are so many ways in which to screw up, offend, misinterpret, misrepresent, and confuse.
And it is one thing to be Native and to try and bridge the Native culture with the modern one.
But it is even more significant when a non-Native, a nuluagmiu, tries to assume this role. The knife-edge upon which they must walk only gets sharper and sharper and sharper.
However, Lesley Thomas seems to be the perfect ambassador. And her novel, Flight of the Goose, is a truly glorious manifesto.
What helps is that Lesley is not Native, so she understands the language, the ways, the thought processes of the non-Native world. But then, in many ways, she is Native. She was adopted by a Native family, well known, recognized and respected elders of the Bering Straits region. And she must have been lucky enough to have a desire to pay attention and see below the surface of what she was taught about the “Ways of the Eskimo”, to have an amazing understanding of what it meant, what it means and what it may mean.
Whenever I see a story, a book, about Alaska Natives, and I see it was written by a non-Native person, I immediately become suspect. Who are these people? Who are they to think they can write about us? Who are they to think they know? Who are they to think they can see below the surface to what is really going one, to what is really the truth? And even after I am told that this person or that “learned” from Native elders, has lived with “the people”, I am still suspect. After all, I am of the Yup’ik culture and would never assume to “know” in a way that I could write a definitive novel about “the North”, its people and its history.
And yet, I am open, I want to give that person, that story, a chance.
This is the mindset in which I began to read Flight of the Goose.
How quickly I realized I had no reason to be suspect.
Oh, certainly, there were places where the fur on my back stood up and I growled, but the more I read, the more I began to understand the purpose of each idea, of each word. I was supposed to have that reaction
It is this that makes Lesley Thomas such a brilliant ambassador. She begins knowing exactly how far apart these two worlds are. But, instead of trying to mash these two worlds together and make them get along, she uses all the bad history, all the misunderstanding, all of the differences to her advantage, and in the end, to our advantage.
Whether Native or not, we must recognize our own prejudice, our own thoughts and ideas, and be angry with the prejudice, thoughts and ideas of “them”. But, in Flight of the Goose, Thomas slowly peels those prejudices, thoughts and ideas away. And slowly, we see innocent misunderstanding instead of prejudicial malice, we see like ideas expressed in different ways instead of completely different thoughts and ideas that could never understand each other. Slowly, we see how alike we are than how different.
This does not mean, however, that being aware of this knowledge will do us any good. For anyone can read a book, hear a story. It is what you do afterward that is important. It is how you work this knowledge into your life that will be the true testament, the true way in which to honor a good story.
Perhaps in the end, this is the difference between the old ways and the new ways, whether Native or not. In the old ways, you searched out every story for wisdom and ate it to make you fat, to help you survive the winter of life. Nowadays, we tend to eat stories like popcorn and candy, it is enjoyable, but they are empty calories and the fat no longer protects us, but kills us. We are entertained, but we choose not to learn -- a fatal mistake.
At this point, it doesn’t really matter how good a book this is. I know now that you will read this story, read this book. But remember, the point isn’t to read this book, it is to make yourself a better person after the end of it. This is the only way to honor this story. It is the only way to honor the work and wisdom of Lesley Thomas . . . Native, or not."
Sacred Hoop Magazine
What an extraordinary novel. Set in the
far arctic lands of the Bering Straits in the early 1970’s, it tells the story of the meeting and the relationship between a US environmentalist, desperate not to be sent to Vietnam, and a deeply emotionally-damaged, ostracised young
Inuit girl, whose painful history is revealed as the pages turn...
Written with poignant and often amazing insight into the Inuit culture, the book is a love story, it is a tale about Inuit shamanism, a portrayal of the conflict between cultures, and a glimpse at what happens to the smaller of the cultures when a more dominant one collides with it. And, along with the richly-described human characters in the book, is another character; thoughout it all the arctic lands themselves hold the stage, the sunlight and warmth of summer, the darkness and coldness of winter, the crash of the arctic oceans, the spirits of the seals and the cry of birds. Lesley deals with the shamanism and sorcery in a very realistic way so that not once did I feel I had wandered into a fantasy novel where the author was trying to portray ‘ancient magic’ without any real idea what it actually was, or what it smelt like. In fact the whole book is congruent, the storytelling is compelling, and quite frankly I couldn’t put it down - and I bet you won’t be able to either.~ John Patrick
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