Anna, Like Thunder

Written by Peggy Herring
Review by Susan McDuffie

In 1808, the Russian brig St. Nikolai runs aground off the coast of Washington state, stranding twenty-two people. Among them is amateur astronomer Anna Petrovna Bulygina, the 18-year-old wife of the navigator. Their first meeting with the indigenous people of the area turns deadly, and eventually, Anna, separated from her husband, is taken to live with one of the tribes in the area. As months pass Anna wonders if she will ever see her home and family again. She slowly learns the customs of the Indigenous people she lives with; her perspective shifts and changes. The one constant in her life remains Polaris in the dark night sky, her own beloved star and touchstone.

We experience this tale from Anna’s point of view but, although written in first person, this poetic and lyrical novel brilliantly reflects a multiplicity of viewpoints. We discover the culture of the Indigenous people through Anna’s eyes, while her later reunion with her husband and other crewmembers provides a different perspective. The feelings of the Quileute and Makah peoples are conveyed as Anna observes and interacts with them. The author’s treatment of Indigenous languages is handled well; that dialogue is written in the native language with translations provided in footnotes. This gives the English-speaking reader a real sense of being surrounded by an alien tongue and culture. This book is based upon historical fact, but the novel transcends the written record to provide insight into the shifting universe of human experience. Recommended.