Surviving the Island of Grace: A Memoir of Alaska

Overview

Reminiscent of the best of Matthiessen, Dillard, and Erlich, Leslie Leyland Fields's Alaskan memoir is an inspiring narrative of life in the wild.

Surviving the Island of Grace is a beautiful and haunting memoir of a woman who left the East Coast and moved to Alaska looking for a new life. In brilliant prose, Leslie Fields tells her story of adapting to life on a wilderness island without running water, telephones, or other 20th century conveniences. Here, as a 20-year-old ...

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Overview

Reminiscent of the best of Matthiessen, Dillard, and Erlich, Leslie Leyland Fields's Alaskan memoir is an inspiring narrative of life in the wild.

Surviving the Island of Grace is a beautiful and haunting memoir of a woman who left the East Coast and moved to Alaska looking for a new life. In brilliant prose, Leslie Fields tells her story of adapting to life on a wilderness island without running water, telephones, or other 20th century conveniences. Here, as a 20-year-old newlywed, she is immersed into the world of commercial salmon fishing. With an unflinching gaze, she explores the extremes that define her new life: the beauty and brutality of commercial fishing, the startling land and seascape around her, the isolation, the physical labor, the intensity of communal island life. Among these extremes, she must find her way from a young woman to wife, commercial fisherwoman, and mother. She explores as well, perhaps most eloquently of all, her unique New Hampshire childhood and its role in preparing her for her life in the bush.

With its dramatic Alaskan setting and moving narrative, Surviving the Island of Grace is a poetic and powerful book.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Readers with pioneer envy will get vicarious thrills from this high-energy memoir. With a keen eye for detail including the occasional stomach-turning description of dead marine life Fields delivers the lowdown on 23 years of commercial salmon fishing on a remote island off Kodiak Island in the Gulf of Alaska. In the summer of 1978, Fields, an East Coast literary type, gamely followed her fiance, Duncan, to his family's generations-old fish camp, where she was unceremoniously ushered into her new workplace: 42-degree water. Fields's unflinching descriptions of spending her first winter eight miles (by water) from the nearest human being and telephone (shared by 100 people) are enough to make the most diehard hermit yearn for company. Of the miserable inconveniences of daily life, she writes, "The first time I did laundry here, I cried. Secretly. And only after putting eight loads of grimy clothes and fish-fouled jeans through the same marinade of mud sloshing in a wringer washer that only partially worked... I knew only two basic categories [before] then: clean and dirty, black and white. [This] seemed a horrible perversion of both the symbol and reality of laundering." The only parts of this memoir that readers may question involve cameo appearances by Duncan, Fields's workaholic, emotionally distant husband, who ushers her back to the skiff 20 minutes after she has a miscarriage. Given her gutsy, capable spirit, it's surprising that our intrepid narrator never follows through on her threat to walk away. Illus. not seen by PW. (Oct. 17) Forecast: Fans of Linda Greenlaw's The Lobster Chronicles will pick this up. Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
From the author/editor of several books about commercial fishing (Out on the Deep Blue, 2001, etc.), a more personal work chronicling her 23 summers spent pulling salmon from Alaskan waters. Fields (English/Univ. of Alaska, Kodiak) balances the gritty details of this rigorous endeavor-check out the superb analysis of why a person's hands are the precision tools of fishing-with an affirmation of life lessons learned along the way. Raised in New England, she attended college in Ohio, where she met husband Duncan, a native Alaskan from a fishing family. They were drawn together, she writes, "by a mutual love of philosophy and theology," and this shared interest makes her memoir as much a chronicle of spiritual journey as a recollection of her life in fishing. Recollections of an impoverished childhood-she was one of six children abandoned by their father, who helped their mother restore old houses-alternate with accounts of her adult life. Fields describes the fishing seasons she worked, beginning as a newlywed in 1978, as well as journeys to Asia and to Africa made before she settled down to raise two children. Though strong, she found fishing daunting: the hours were long; the weather capricious; and the way of life tougher than she'd anticipated. (Scarce water supplies, for example, turned bathing and laundry into major chores.) She was close to Duncan's family, but as the years passed she found the fishing season straining her marriage: there was no time to talk to her husband; and after the children were born, she feared medical emergencies (travel between their island and Kodiak, where the nearest doctors were, was always dangerous). But faith and her realization that life on theisland was part of "the grace that sustains" have reconciled her to a choice she made all but unknowingly at age 20. Vivid details and intelligent insights invigorate this celebration of the human spirit at work in unfamiliar places.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780312291402
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press
  • Publication date: 10/17/2002
  • Edition description: First Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 352
  • Product dimensions: 5.74 (w) x 8.62 (h) x 1.22 (d)

Meet the Author

Leslie Leyland Fields lives on Kodiak Island, Alaska, where she divides her time between teaching and commercial fishing. Winters she teaches English at Kodiak College and runs The Northern Pen, a professional writing business; summers, she moves out to her remote fishcamp island where she has worked with her family in commercial salmon fishing since 1978. Her five children, ranging in age from fourteen years to one, increase the island's population to seven. Much of her writing is done here in a little cabin on a dock over the Pacific Ocean.

Fields has written three other books: Out on the Deep Blue (St. Martin's Press, 2001), The Entangling Net: Alaska's Commercial Fishing Women Tell Their Lives (University of Illinois Press, 1997), and The Water Under the Fish (Trout Creek Press, 1995). Her essays have appeared in The Atlantic, Orion, The Christian Science Monitor, Experiencing Nature, and others. She can be reached at northernpen@alaska.com.

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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted December 16, 2002

    A literary voice of experience writes about her unique Alaska lifestyle.

    "Surviving the Island of Grace" by Leslie Leyland Fields opens up a world for the reader that few see in such frank, unyielding literary light. The author's practiced instinct enables her to construct "Grace" out of exceptionally strong stuff. She weaves together the tapestry of her story as a youngster, young woman, wife and mother. These segments of her life take us from her rigorous New England childhood, through post-oil spill Alaska. The sturdy, sure-lined threads of learning, working and growing into marriage are blended skillfully into the workscape of the Alaska setnetter--a form of salmon fishing where the fish come to the net, rather than the net to the fish. It is all here--and I mean all, the harsh, ugly griminess of living in a remote summer fish camp. There is also love, good fellowship, learning and above all else, faith. Leyland Fields is a person of deep religious conviction. Her faith appears, for the most part, in tasteful doses, even for a non-religious reader such as myself. There are too many Alaska books by "hit and run" authors, who live up north a few years, then write a book or three. In "Grace" Leyland-Fields engraves all of her two-decades plus Alaska living on every one of its 330 pages. This book's most conspicuous literary achievement is the genuine, ardent authority of the narrator's voice.

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