(Review) The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah

Publisher and Publication Date: St. Martin’s Press. 2018. Paperback edition 2019.
Genre: Historical fiction. Women and literature.
Pages: 576.
Source: Self-purchase.
Audience: This book covers a large audience of possible readers. For example: women and literature, domestic violence, family saga, and coming of age story.
Rating: Very good.

Amazon link

Kristin Hannah’s Goodreads page

This is the third book I’ve read by Kristin Hannah. The other two books are The Nightingale and The Winter Garden.

“Some fears you carried alone.” Page 138.

Summary:
In the summary of the book you’ll read at Goodreads or Amazon it mentions the father, Ernt Allbright, is a Vietnam War veteran. It fails to mention he had been a POW for several years. This is a significant point. In the 1960s and 1970s, there wasn’t a mental health care system for veterans (not really.) The knowledge of how to help veterans, support groups, counseling, books, and medications came later. Ernt had a serious mental health disorder, it was not going to clear up like getting over the flu. He was not a person who could be reasoned with or led to rational thinking. His brain was…..what is the right word? His brain was still in that state of survival mode and anticipating threats. His wife looked to him to make rational, logical decisions, but he was not capable. He desperately needed help. Further, his wife Cora kept reflecting back on who Ernt was before the war. Ernt is not that person anymore. Yet, Cora clings to the thought of who he used to be and the hope of who he can be again. This is tragic and heartbreaking.
I feel that I can speak freely about this, because my son has PTSD from combat in Iraq. He is not able to work. He cannot make certain decisions. Most days he cannot sleep. Most days he cannot handle being around people other than his family and close friends. He takes medicine. He sees a doctor. But the David that was is gone. I’m thankful he is home and able to be with family. However, David has a hard time with life post war.
Sharing about my family is not meant to be a political statement. It is meant to share a glimpse of my family’s experience with PTSD and the after-effects of war.
Back to The Great Alone.
The only child of this sad couple is Leni. When the story begins it is 1974, and Leni is thirteen. Later the story jumps to 1978, and then the mid 1980s.
After Ernt lost his job in Washington state, the family moves to Alaska. They live in a small community of independent, resilient, hard working people.
The Allbright family learns to prep during the summer months for the lengthy grueling winters. The community helps them. They literally take the family under their wing.
Leni doesn’t fully understand the complexities of her family until later.
Leni wants a connection to someone her age.
Meanwhile, Ernt’s mental health condition deteriorates.

My Thoughts:
The Great Alone is an epic story.
It’s a story to get lost amongst the series of sad events that swirl and pile up like a huge snow drift.
From the beginning, I felt the story wasn’t going to end well. But, I wanted to know what would happen to Cora and Leni.
It’s a story with several themes and ideas running through it. All of them are heavy. Too heavy, because it left me drained.
Some of the themes are sacrifice, love, loss, vengeance, loyalty, intimacy, transformation, discouragement, disappointment, regret, loneliness, and isolation.
Some of the major ideas in the story: coming of age, war veteran, mental health disorder, living in the Alaskan wilderness, young love, codependency, domestic violence, and addiction.
Just when I thought the story was going to wrap up with the characters another chapter began in their lives.
Cora and Leni are extremely close. Their relationship alone was an idea that could’ve carried the story.
Overall I’m glad I read The Great Alone. However, it is a heavy story to digest considering the ongoing events of 2020.

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