THE SNOW CHILD by Eowyn Ivey

I have to admit to you that, since I read it, I enjoy composing notes for this review. Although I decided to tell you very little about the content of the story itself (I would hate it if I “stole” important ingredients and scenes from the book from anyone), it turns out that I can tell you a little about it for a quite a long time.

This is exactly how this whole book is – you are insatiable while reading it and later you can’t get tired of thinking or talking about it. I think these are exactly the qualities of those books that deserve to be read more than once.

Mabel and Jack spent many years loving and eagerly awaiting a child. When the child finally arrived – it arrived so early that the devastated parents had almost nothing to hug, kiss or bury. It wasn’t long before they began to fear that soon, after the child, they would have to bury their dreams of a family.

Being targeted by other people’s spoken and unspoken questions, compassionate looks and within the reach of other excited parents’ conversations becomes unbearable for Mabel. Jack and Mabel need a new beginning, a new life, and Alaska seems to offer just about everything they are still capable of dreaming of – a new beginning, a new life away from everything they had to say goodbye to forever.

It would be a hard life, but it would be theirs alone. Here at the world’s edge, far from everything familiar and safe, they would build a new home in the wilderness and do it as partners.

 Eowyn Ivey, The snow child

But the new beginning proved more difficult than both Jack and Mabel imagined it could be. Nature is beautiful, but cruel; perhaps completely unprepared to accept two old, weak people, without anyone who could help them tame the land and prepare for the long, dark winter to come.

Tired and lonely, Jack and Mabel, instead of sharing the common pain and struggle and come closer together, continue to distance themselves from each other; instead of a new life and new beginnings, it seems increasingly certain that only new losses, new disappointments, new evidence that they are not up to the lives that other people seem to lead with ease.

At one crucial moment, only the beauty of nature is what Mabel finds salvation in, not knowing that the beauty and magic of the wilderness is yet to drill its way into their lives and, if it is not too late…

One evening, unexpectedly elated by the first snow, Jack and Mabel form a little snowman in their backyard. Mabel, carried away for a moment, wrapped her red scarf around his neck and hung her red gloves on it.

The next morning, the glove and scarf are gone, and only a single series of tracks leads straight from the snowman into the woods… Soon a small red fox appears to Jack and Mabel among the trees, and not long after, these two tired and disappointed spouses begin to notice a small child watching them from the forest – a girl with silver hair, in a blue woolen coat, with Mabel’s red scarf around her neck and red gloves on her hands.

Who is this little creature that seems to survive only in the woods in conditions that are difficult for two adults to cope with? Where does that little girl with the hoarfrost on her lashes that the red fox jumps after come from? What do they want from that little creature that no one in those parts has ever seen or heard of?

Around here, they call it cabin fever. You get down in the dumps, everything’s off kilter and sometimes your mind starts playing tricks on you. Esther reached across the table and put a hand over Mabel’s “You start seeing things that you’re afraid of… or things you’ve always wished for.”

Eowyn Ivey, The snow child

In fact, an excited Mabel realizes that this is not entirely true – SHE has heard of such a girl; long ago, when she herself was still a child, her father owned a book of fairy tales from which he read her a story that told exactly two people who, like her and Jack, could not have children, so they made a child out of snow. That child, by some magic, came to life overnight…

Is it possible that here in the wild, far from civilization, fairy tales still literally live? And if they do live, how long do they last? And, most important of all, how do they end?

But for Jack and Mabel, the problems are just beginning. Soon the two become very attached to a child they can’t summon, who they can’t keep, who they can’t protect – who comes when she wants, stays as long as she wants and then disappears with the spring and to return again with the first snow.

She moved through the forest with a grace of a wild creature. She knew the snow, and it carried her gently. She knew the spruce trees, how to slip among their limbs, and she knew the animals, the fox and ermine, the moose and songbirds. She knew this land by heart.

Eowyn Ivey, The snow child

Every day of theirs, every thought of theirs, every conversation of theirs revolves around that child that no one else sees; some liveliness, warmth, and purpose are once again drawn into Jack and Mabel’s relationship, but the indomitable nature of Alaska seems to threaten to banish them forever.

What are Jack and Mabel willing and able to do to stay close to an illusion, a dream that has come true in that part of the world where it seems they will not be able to survive without starving to death?

The book “The Snow Child” has been in the world for a very long time and already has an interesting history and, I can say, a successful career. It was first published in 2012 as the debut of author Eowyn Ivey, who until then had worked as a journalist and bookseller. Already the fact that this title soon became a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in the 2013 fiction category should tell you how special the book is.

Unfortunately, it took me a long time to notice her. What can I do – I am late in many ways and in all directions.

Fortunately, the book “The Snow Child” happened to me in a series of great “winter” books – “The Alice Network”, then “Bear and Nightingale”, which first took me to the Russian snowy landscapes and mythology. And then, when I was afraid that this spring, as it did last, it would happen that I would not be able to find such good books for weeks, this perfection happened.

I couldn’t wish for a better book for winter, spring, summer and fall “The Snow Child” is almost EVERYTHING I dream about when I dream of the perfect book. The very beginning of reading was perfect – it was an early spring morning, and I was alone in a newly opened cafe and the first smell that came to me when I opened the first page of the book was the smell of roasted coffee. Not brewed liquid, but just the hot smell of roasted beans – a smell I hadn’t smelled since my grandmother roasted raw coffee in a large wood-fired oven.

On the first page of my copy of this book, a short note is written about that scent that introduced me to reading this book, but also sensitized me to pay attention to all those scents that I found in the book; which were part of our childhood, and now they are either gone or we are not where we should be to feel them: fog and dew in the early morning, forest air before the first snow falls, freshly chopped wood and the first fire, homemade bread .

I love many books because they take me either to my own memories or to other people’s pains that I recognize as my own or to the world of fairy tales that I can never grow out of or to hyper-realistic depictions of hard life, honest work and painful uncertainty or to the silence and solitude of untouched nature.

Eowyn Ivey took me to all these places at the same time and at the same time comforted and delighted me by showing me (as Katherine Arden did in The Bear and the Nightingale (a review coming soon)) that there are still narrators living among us who create images with words that no brush can create, caress the soul as no hand can caress it and take a man where no one else (except a skilled narrator) and nothing else (except a beautifully written book) can’t take them.

By the very end of the book, Eowyn Ivey was proving that brutally realistic and shimmering fairy tales not only go with each other, but, skillfully intertwined, form a whole that reaches all of the reader’s sensibilities and completely fills him with the story. A special skill is that, writing about one such inhospitable world, you don’t break the spell where you don’t have to and Eowyn Ivey possesses a superhuman sense of this little mercy.

There are several types of readers living in me and each of them has their own moods and tastes – and this book delighted each of them at the same time.

I have read this book in so many different ways; on the one hand it was a beautifully written reminder of history and way of life that is unimaginably difficult for us today, and on the other hand I read it as a reminder of the incredible resilience of the human spirit and body, the ability of man to fall, suffer and curse, yet subdues, yet progresses. She also reminded me that progress, whether personal or belonging to a community, is rarely achieved without paying a painfully high price.

I also read this book as a consolation to all those who dreamed of parenting that looks like this: two people love and get along, work hard and hard to gain something of their own, and then, when they get back on their feet, crown their work and effort and success healthy offspring, who together continue to protect and care for him while they are alive. For many people, parenting doesn’t look nearly like this…

Yet life sometimes offers a whole host of unexpected ways to be a parent, a true parent, if we agree to redefine or completely reject the above “perfect” formula.

But what fed me the most from this book are the stories of women; about everything they are, about everything they can be to each other, but I was especially healed by the wonderful relationship between woman and nature, woman and loneliness – in fact, basically, a woman’s relationship to herself.

It is common to think – and this is what happens in the book – that a woman, who is alone, in many ways powerless to take care of herself, is powerless to survive in conditions where couples or larger communities struggling to live a dignified life.

However, here is a story that tells something else, which says that there is a connection between a woman and the wilderness that can be nurtured; that a woman can master nature in a special way; that a woman can develop by choosing to be among other people because she wants to, not because she feels she is missing something when she is alone.

As you read the book, pay attention to that unrepeatable, magnificent swan scene – it embodies this whole message.

What I felt deep, deepest in my bone marrow as I met Faina, that wonderful child of winter, loneliness, and the forest, was recognizing her cry — promise me you won’t stop me from going, from leaving, and I promise that I will always come back…

I am deeply grateful to Eowyn Ivey for giving a voice to these truths through the character of a young girl: That a woman, when she leaves, just leaves – it doesn’t have to mean that she abandons, that she doesn’t love. When a woman leaves, it is not necessarily because she wants to, but because she has to.

We wished for her, we made her in love and hope, and she came to us. She’s our little girl, and I don’t know how exactly but she is made from this place, from this snow, from this cold. Can you believe that?

Eowyn Ivey, The snow child

One who encounters such a miraculous being – in the form of a sister, wife, daughter, friend – must learn how to give space to such a soul. If he succeeds in promising her that he will never stop her from leaving, he could be the lucky one to experience being loved by a being who could love like no one else – and nobody else.

A book like no other I have read – I wholeheartedly recommend it to every woman, especially one who is not bothered by anything more than a closed door…

Also I do not apologize for the longest review you will ever read. If you come to the end of it them my job was done, I have successfully transferred what this book means to me.

49 thoughts on “THE SNOW CHILD by Eowyn Ivey”

  1. We wished for her, we made her in love and hope, and she came to us. She’s our little girl, and I don’t know how exactly but she is made from this place, from this snow, from this cold. Can you believe that? – I love that quote from the book! Just from that quote alone I can tell this is a beautifully written book. Thank you for the recommendation! Sounds like it had quite the impression on you.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. This sounds like an amazing book, full of emotion, hope, love and loss. Not only do the characters and story sound engaging, it also reads beautifully from those couple of quotes alone. Thank you for such a detailed review, this sounds incredible.


  3. What an intriguing story. I will certainly read The Snow Child. I can’t think of a better way to start reading a good book than in a quiet cafe surrounded by the smell of roasted coffee beans. Heaven.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. This sounds like a very intriguing book with a complicated story. A fairy tale for adults, from what I understood reading your resume. I’d like to read it.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Excellent review. You really convinced me of reading this book. First time I read about the author. It is always great to discover new books to read. Thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. This sounds like such a great read! I’ve been saying all through lockdown that I need to pick up a book but I haven’t yet. I’ll have to see if I can find a copy on Amazon 🙂

    Louise x

    Liked by 1 person

  7. This sounds like something on the veins of Once Upon a Time (the ABC/Disney-related TV show). Or it reminds me of it as that show was about interconnecting fairy tales. The Snow Child sounds like an amazing book and I would love to read it.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. The name of the characters, Jack and Mabel sounds interesting for a story. I would love to read the whole of it…thank you for the background.

    Liked by 1 person

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