Under Nushagak Bluff

In this saga about matrilineal love and discord, Mia C. Heavener depicts three generations of Yup'ik women and the divergent ways each endures the increasing outside influence on their pre-state Alaskan village.

Anne Girl grew up in Nushagak "with mud in her fingernails and tundra leaves in her hair." Restless to her bones, she keeps busy, catching salmon with her mother to prepare for winter. John Nelson is an outsider--a Norwegian who can't convince the locals to let him work--and Anne Girl is immediately drawn to him. After her mother dies, Anne Girl marries John, but his constant presence suffocates her. Then John becomes a pilot, and Anne Girl abhors awaiting his returns, busying herself with smoking fish and teaching her daughter, Ellen, everything she learned from her mother. But Ellen doesn't feel acknowledged by her mother. She thinks Anne Girl would let her drown to save a net of salmon.

Anne Girl starts to fear she's failing Ellen--that when the rapidly commercializing village abandons its traditional ways of life, Ellen will be left clinging to them just as Anne Girl is. She moves out, and Ellen's left to come of age in a settlement divided between the old and the new. But the more she roots herself in Nushagak--to her friends, to the fisherman and to the woman who becomes her second mother--the more Ellen comes to believe she must leave. With a diverse community devoted to supporting one another and peppered with Yup'ik legends, Under Nushagak Bluff by Heavener celebrates indigenous livelihood in an enthralling debut about identity in its varied forms, and the ways they battle and sustain one another. --Samantha Zaboski, freelance reviewer and editor

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