Friday, March 15, 2013

UCF Book Festival Feature: The Lighthouse Road - Peter Geye

This is definitely an author whose reputation precedes him, at least in the blogger universe.  His first book, "Safe From the Sea" received some insanely glowing reviews that called his debut heartfelt, introspective, and deftly-written.  Why didn't I read it?  No reason but pure lack of time.

But Peter did attend SIBA last October, and I was able to get a copy of his second book "The Lighthouse Road".  And it was the first book I picked up to read when I saw his name on the list of authors to attend the UCF Book Festival.

I live in a permanent state of perspiration here in Florida, so I can always use a book to help inspire a chill.

Synopsis:  Alone and speaking only her native Norwegian tongue, young Thea Eide arrives in the frozen wasteland of Gunflint, Minnesota in the late 1800's to start a new life.  Assisted by the local mover/shaker/opportunist Hosea Grimm, Thea is provided a job as cook for a camp of lumberjacks and bears her burden bravely and stoically under a watch salesman, smelling of whisky and trouble, comes to town and seals her fate.  She gives birth to a son named Odd, and before he is a toddler, finds himself an orphan.  

Odd is taken in by Hosea Grimm and his adopted daughter Rebekah, as well as the entire town of Gunflint.  Odd learns the life of a fisherman and occasional hootch smuggler, navigating the cold waters of Lake Superior, but longs for the loving arms of a mother and the roots of a real family.  He longs to fill the empty space in his soul - to belong somewhere - and thinks he may have found the answer, but actually is living out a predestined fate that was written in starts before he was even born.

This is a story told in a non-linear narrative, bouncing back and forth between Thea's life and her son's, emphasizing the same path on which they travel.  The bleak landscape of a frontier built with the sweat and muscle of immigrants, the harsh unforgiving elements, the blood-thirsty wolves, the opportunities and pitfalls, the love and heartbreak.

My thoughts:  If I was looking for a little chill in my sweaty day, I got it.  I can't recall a book that has evoked such a sense of place, of emotion (or lack of), of atmosphere.  This is time travel at its best.  

The prose is stoic and spare, which feels right based on the landscape.  These were hard lives lived.  I could almost feel my heart freezing over, reading about Thea sleeping in a root cellar, of trying to communicate with her new world with a handful of words, of praying for better times.  But the better times never came, neither for her or her son.  There is aching, wanting, emptiness, and a desire to drag oneself out of this condition, but few opportunities to do so.  But there are small pleasures...a kind gesture, a boat full of fish, the loyalty of the Ovcharka dogs that protect the camp from wolves.  

This is not a happy book, but a realistic one that stays with you.  This is an ode to the immigrants that built this country.  

4 out of 5 stars     



Julie P. said...

I enjoyed this one although I hesitate to use the word enjoy. I most definitely appreciated it! He's an amazing writer. His first book was equally beautiful.

Zibilee said...

This does sound sad, and reminds me a little bit of The Orchardist, which I just finished. I think I am going to have to go out and get this one. It's not one that I picked up from the festival, so I probably should see if I can download it.

bermudaonion said...

This sounds sad and desolate and like a book I need to read.

rhapsodyinbooks said...

Immigrant novels are always so bleak!

JoAnn said...

I'm still trying to get to Safe from the Sea... now I have another title from this author to add to my list!

Ti said...

I love Peter! He is so humble too.

Debbie Rodgers @Exurbanis said...

Safe from the Sea left me [meh], but this sounds like it might be worth a try.

(Although wolves are NOT blood-thirsty. An excellent introduction to the species is the contemporary classic Never Cry Wolf by Farley Mowat. It effectively overcomes popular stereotypes.)

caite said...

Oh no!
I loved his first book..darn now I will have to buy this! Stop it! ;-)

Serena said...

I liked this one a great deal, but prefer Safe From the Sea. There is a desolate feel to this one that you cannot escape...its very frightening how you can feel that COLD