To the Bright Edge of the World

Written by Eowyn Ivey
Review by Juliet Waldron

This novel is an epistolary novel with four principal characters: one pair, husband and wife, live in 1885, and the other pair are contemporary. The main story is set in Alaska during the winter of 1885. A decorated war hero, Colonel Allen Forrester, leads a small expedition up the Wolverine River into the unknown. Not even the Russians, who had ceded the vast territory in 1867, knew much about this immensity that they owned. The Colonel keeps a private journal which he addresses to his pregnant wife, now left behind on the edge of civilization. He hopes that someday she may read it, whether he comes home or not. His wife, Sophie, is a thoughtful Yankee spinster who is bored by the company of the frivolous, uneducated officer’s wives. To fill her time, she begins a study of the new science of photography. This creates a small scandal, because women aren’t supposed to engage in “manly” pursuits.

The contemporary characters in this story are an elder, who becomes heir to some of Forrester’s documents, and a younger degreed native of this same land, who works for the state maintaining a small museum. This is the lesser story, perhaps, but it’s important too, as some boundaries—age and ethnicity—are crossed on the way to friendship.

The story of the 1885 expedition wanders into country we moderns have never seen. In that uncharted country, the Colonel enters a mythic world stalked by starvation but framed in absolute grandeur. To the Bright Edge of the World is drenched in the icy presence of that other time and place. The writer’s language is supple, strong, and, above all, luminous.