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  • Hide and Seek
  • Myrdene Anderson (bio)
The Snow Child. Eowyn Ivey. Little, Brown, and Company. 416 pages; cloth, $24.99; paper, $14.99; eBook, $11.99.

This novel fusing fable with arctic survival guide will entrance any reader brave enough to suspend disbelief. In the 1920s, a self-described barren middle-aged couple from genteel Pennsylvania decants to the arctic wilds of Alaska. In throwing their feeble efforts into homesteading, Mabel and Jack hope for nothing more than to assuage their enduring grief over their single stillborn child, while also escaping the querying eyes of kinfolk.

Jack's expertise at subsistence activities is compromised by both age and the starkly resistant arctic landscape. He hides his tribulations from Mabel, whom he perceives as fragile. She is expected to stay in the cabin, cook and clean, and busy herself with the few pastimes the journey allowed—a few books, drawing pencils, sewing gear.

Two forces of nature arrive on the scene. One is real, an exuberant family already established some distance away: Esther and George, with three growing sons. Time and again, these farmers manage to save Jack and Mabel from themselves and from the elements. The other ingredient consists in the magic surrounding their snow child, Faina. She materialized from a snow figure Mabel and Jack giddily sculpted during a long-delayed first winter flurry. Each contributed with uncharacteristic delight to the snow figure—a branch for arms, frozen berry juice to color lips, then finally red mittens and scarf.

The following day, little boot prints led away into the forest, and all winter the couple played hide-and-seek with the snow child, admonishing each other about not breaking the magic of Faina, who was often accompanied by her familiar, a red fox. She vanished during the first and later summers. Mabel lingered over every clue, sketching each trace of the snow child and, finally, her ephemeral self. Mabel and Jack worried about the child, longing to lure her into their protection. Over time, winters became more social as Faina allowed herself to become more real than magical. Eventually Faina became more tangible, venturing indoors, even eating, but only briefly, and only in winter. She was their secret, their bond.

Back in Pennsylvania, when Mabel was a child, her father had read to her from a large illustrated book of folktales; that is, he had told the stories in English as the book was written in Russian. When Faina erupted into her life, Mabel yearned to revisit that storybook. Mabel's sister was able to locate the volume and send it to Alaska. The story so vivid to Mabel, situating everyone in the drama of her new life, described an old couple making themselves a daughter out of snow, a snow maiden, Snegurochka— an image fueling many related fables in Slavic lore. The common thread across these narratives is the fragility of the snow maiden; crudely put, she melts away.

Mabel's unconscious self resuscitates those childhood realities to meld with her invisible-unto-visible snow child. For this reader, the magic lingers, through the looking glass, in another realm of reality in the poetic style of Gabriel Garcia Márquez's archetypal symbolism.

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Detail from Cover

This novel's dust jacket portrays little Faina with one red mitten peeking from behind one birch tree, and behind another, her red fox ready to sprint away. The snow lies even and silent beneath a crescent moon barely visible for the copse of birch. To advance the magical realist story, the volume's rough-cut ivory pages mimic the vertical rhythm of the trees from which they came.

Myrdene Anderson

Myrdene Anderson is an anthropologist, linguist, and semiotician at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana. She has over 40 years of fieldwork experience in Norwegian Lapland and is widely published in Saami culture.



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Launched on MUSE
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