Alaska (novel)

Alaska (novel)

Alaska is a historical novel by James A. Michener. Like other Michener titles, Alaska spans a considerable amount of time.

Plot introduction

Published in 1988 by Random House, Alaska is 868 pages long. Along with the reading, Michener provides a table of contents, a list of acknowledgements, and a Fact and Fiction section. The third item offers the reader an insight into what occurred in real life and what the author invented.

Plot summary

Chapter I: The Clashing Terranes

A sweeping, yet compelling, description of the formation of the North American continent. The reader follows the development of the Alaskan terrain over millennia.

The city of Los Angeles is now some twenty-four hundred miles south of central Alaska, and since it is moving slowly northward as the San Andreas fault slides irresistibly along, the city is destined eventually to become part of Alaska. If the movement is two inches a year, which it often is, we can expect Los Angeles to arrive off Anchorage in about seventy-six million years.

Chapter II: The Ice Castle

Chapter III: People of the North

Chapter IV: The Explorers

Tells of the early exploration of Alaska along with "civilization's" first encounters with the native peoples.

Chapter V: The Duel

Chapter VI: Lost Worlds

Chapter VII: Giants in Chaos

Chapter VIII: Gold

Tells of the chaos surrounding the Alaskan gold rush.

Chapter IX: The Golden Beaches of Nome

Chapter X: Salmon

Describes the formation and operation of a fictional company's cannery (an Alaskan first) on the Taku Inlet.

Chapter XI: The Railbelt

Chapter XII: The Rim of Fire

Allusions/references to actual history, geography and current science

Michener uses factual people or places in fictional events. He also invents characters and places like any other novelist. Alaska is not a history textbook.

Acknowledgements

Trivia

Drawings and maps

Throughout the novel are drawings (at the beginnings of chapters) and maps (frontispiece, pages 102-103, and inside back cover). There is also an amount of impressive calligraphy. The maps are credited to Jean Paul Tremblay. Carole Lowenstein is responsible for the book's physical and calligraphy.

Jacket design

The jacket of Alaska features an illustration on the front and a photograph of Michener on the back. The illustration is an oval-shaped sketch of items easily identifiable with the state of Alaska.
They include (clockwise):

  • a snow-capped mountain
  • a sky of pink, orange, and yellow hues
  • an amphibious airplane (known as a 'bush plane' in the state)
  • a dark gray-green hill
  • a floating, craggy iceberg
  • calm, highly-reflective water
  • a small figure in a kayak
  • a tiny village at the foot of another hill

The photograph of James Michener, on the back cover, was taken not too long before his death in 1997.

The jacket design and aforementioned sketch are credited to Wendell Minor. Michener's picture is credited to Michael A. Lewis of the Sheldon Jackson College in Sitka, Alaska.

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