By Andrea Thalasinos. Forge. $23.99.
While time and geography separate the two key troubled figures in this sometimes perplexing novel, the reader is faced with not being able to grasp their connection until the closing pages.
From the outset, you find yourself in a puzzling travel time warp of alternating chapters from 1919 Siberia to 1993 rural Wisconsin, wondering where this story is headed. And, rest assured, it takes awhile for it to get untracked.
The two primary subjects, Jeaanta and Rosalie, live more than a half century and two continents apart, but we come to discover they are connected by Siberian huskies (Guardians), which provide them a spiritual guidance plus a relief and focus away from heartbreak and troubled relationships.
Her sled-dog team enables Jeaanta, the Keeper of the Guardians, to escape the pillage and displacement of her Chukchi village by Stalin’s Red Army, leaving her husband Tariem haunted for decades wondering whether she died or escaped across the Bering Sea to Alaska with Robert Ramsey, of Nome, whom she offers the couple’s top dogs. Ramsey manages to escape Red Army soldiers and flees back across the Bering Sea to Alaska with the animals.
Rosalie, a Native American without a high-school degree, finds work as a bead artist, but is yearning to segue into canine care, after rescuing Smokey, a mistreated husky from a local junkyard, much to the disdain of her husband. Smokey and Rosalie become Velcro mates, saving each other from the harsh psychological challenges facing them around every curve.
Eventually young Rosalie is convinced by a husband-wife (Jan and Dave) sled-dog racing team to come to work and live with them. She develops skills as a handler and incorporates her own dogs into a race team. An area veterinarian and retired dog musher, Charlie, in need of assistance, sees unlimited potential in Rosalie and trains her to become a veterinary assistant, later urging her to consider a career in veterinary medicine.
The conduit for the Jeaanta-Rosalie link is the aged Ramsey, who comes to visit Jan and Dave, in Wisconsin, telling the couple how he acquired a teams of dogs plus pups from a Siberian woman more than 60 years ago and how one of the pups saved his life when a sled flipped as Red Army soldiers were firing shots at him in pursuit. Now, as an act of kindness and thanks, he wants to return puppies to the Chukchi people, following the collapse of the Soviet Union. Through Charlie, who has helped care for her growing collection of dogs, Rosalie is introduced to the legendary musher Ramsey, unlocking new opportunities for the fast-maturing young woman.
By now Rosalie is assuming the persona of a modern-day Jeaanta, finding herself on a 60-mile adventure across the frozen Bering Sea, where she; Charlie, who doubles as an Iditarod veterinarian during the famous March race; and Ramsey transport warm clothing, supplies, two litters of his puppies and a team of yearlings hand-picked to return to the grateful Chukchi in a healing process for all.
Jeaanta’s husband, Tariem, now an old-timer, is in the Chukchi welcoming party. After introductions, he turns to Rosalie and says, “My wife knew –, “he begins, “that by saving the Guardians, she’d save us, the People of One Fire. That long after the flame was stomped, the Guardians would return to rekindle us.
“She brought you back, Daughter Spirit. She led the Guardians home. This is her gift.”
The beauty of this fragmented but flavorful volume is how the early combustible feel of two far-flung characters slowly evolves into a powerful spiritual connection when their stories intersect with invigorating passion at the close.