Publishing year: 2016
The prologue of this novel is set in March, 1898.
Eliza is the narrator, and she is in Seattle. Her intention is to travel to Alaska, but she has been unlucky to get a ticket. Then, she finds a card in the mud, and it is a ticket to Alaska within two days. When the day comes, she is afraid she will stop, and the genuine owner of the ticket will come. But no, she is given the thumbs up and boards the ship.
The first chapter places Eliza two years before. She lives on Cypress Island, Washington, and leads a very isolated life as apart from her, only a couple of people live on the island. It is a hard life, and as we witness Eliza’s lonely, hard routine, we learn more about her. She was married to Jacob, the Methodist minister, but I have the impression that Jacob didn’t treat very well. Eliza had a baby, Jonathan, and we know that the child wasn’t Jacob’s, as there is a part in which Eliza mentions her father marrying her off to Jacob after she had her illegitimate child. I wonder who Jonathan’s real father was. Was Eliza raped? Or did she love someone and the man abandoned her? Now Jacob and Jonathan are dead as they died from the smallpox epidemic that swept across the island. That is why Eliza refused to leave the island because her child was buried here, and even though he is dead, Eliza couldn’t bring herself to abandon her beloved son.
We don’t know much about Eliza’s family, but we get the impression that she wasn’t very happy with her parents and her two sisters. Eliza was the eldest and very different to her other sisters. She didn’t care about fashions, beauty, or female-related things, and her father looked down on her because of her being different. Eliza has always been told that she is clumsy and unattractive, and her preference for books was used as a way to demean and insult her. Now it seems there is no communication with her family. Eliza rows to the store on another island, and we can see that she hopes to have mail, but there is nothing. I am curious to know more about Eliza’s past and the obvious fall-out with her family.
I am also curious how Eliza finally decides to leave Cypress Island and travel to Alaska. If two years ago she was so determined to stay on the island, come rain or shine, just because her son was buried there, what could have changed her mind?
I am hooked already. I’ve loved the beginning of the book, and I am really eager to know more about Eliza and her story. The description of Eliza’s life and the island are beautiful and so real. It is intense and at the same time fascinating to read about how hard life was in the nineteenth century, and being a woman alone and left to your own resources was twice as bad.