Monday, March 15, 2010

Blessing's Bead by Debby Dahl Edwardson

Nutaaq is thrilled to be leaving her small island village and traveling by boat to the 1917 trade fair on the Alaskan mainland. She is accompanied by her older sister, Aaluk, and various other neighbors and relatives. As usual, the trade fair is an intoxicating extravaganza of soft reindeer skins, smoothly polished soapstone lamps, beautiful jade and delicious dried seal meat soaked in oil. There are also plenty of interesting people, one of whom is a handsome Siberian wearing a necklace of stunning cobalt blue beads, who constantly eyes Aaluk. Nutaaq's world is shattered when Aaluk impulsively decides to marry this mysterious Siberian on the spot and leave the fair with him. Aaluk gives two of the blue beads to heartbroken Nutaaq to remind her of their bond as sisters until they can be reunited. But due to political developments, including the closing of the border between Alaska and Russia, the sisters never see each other again.

More than eighty years have passed, and it is now 1989. Blessing, Nutaaq's great granddaughter, and her younger brother Isaac have been sent by social services to live with their grandmother in a small Inupiaq village on the coast of Alaska while their mother is being treated for substance abuse. This primitive village is nothing like Anchorage, where Blessing has grown up, and she feels homesick and completely out of place with the locals. But as she gets to know her grandmother she becomes immersed in her family history, and learning about each of her relatives and ancestors helps her to connect with her Inupiaq heritage. Edwardson's writing style is a tantalizing celebration of the senses, and Blessing's story is profoundly satisfying and filled with hope.

In her fascinating author's note, Edwardson describes how she based this novel on historical events such as the "Ice Curtain" and the Spanish flu epidemic of 1918. She has also included a helpful glossary of the Inupiaq language. Search the catalog for Blessing's Bead. For more novels that center around Eskimo life, try Return to the Misty Shore by Bonnie Leon or Ice Drift by Theodore Taylor.

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