REVIEW - DANCING AT THE ODINOCHKA
Hill, Kirkpatrick, Dancing at the Odinochka. McElderry Books. Softbound. 257 pages + short bibliography.
A journalist this reviewer admires once said the most valuable advice she ever recieved from another journalist was "whatís the point?" This is to be used when writing seems difficult. Back off and ask yourself what youíre trying to accomplish; what is the kernel of your writing.
It is rather surprising that an author of three previous books on Alaska seems to have fallen into the trap of fuzzy focus.
Perhaps this is a childrenís book, since the story is about Erinia, a little Creole girl living in the odinochka (trading post) at Nulato on the Middle Yukon in the 1860s. Itís published by the juvenile section of a major publisher, so it could be that.
On the other hand, some adult themes such as the coming of the Western Union Telegraph Expedition surveyors, then the change in Alaska from Russia to the United States and the subsequent problems are covered, so maybe itís a history of the area from the Native viewpoint.
This novel is based on a true account of the murder of the old trader at Nulato, certainly not something for young children.
However, even though it crosses back and forth, it is still worth reading. The thorough coverage of Athabaskan beliefs is of great interest, although since itís a novel and weíre not told of the authorís knowledge, this has to be treated with caution.
Certainly the Western Union surveyors are not accurate historically. Dall and Whymper didnít arrive until later, and Kennicottís death isnít mentioned. Wait: this is a novel. True, so weíll have to settle for the story. Itís roughly about the happy Russian storekeeper in Nulato and his Creole family and the major changes that come when the surveyors arrive. When word arrives that Alaska has been sold by Russia to the United States, the family is plunged into gloom. Then the storekeeper is killed in revenge for a crime his son committed in another town and the f amily went down river to St. Michael.
Thatís a good story and the writing is adequate. Hill also gives us a nice epilogue about the family. Recommended if you would like to know more about the people and the period, with the caveats mentioned above.