Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Book review: "Tisha" by Anne Hobbs

This is a great story that has it all: Forbidden love. Racism. Adventure. Even an rockin' chase scene with sled dogs!

My only question is: How much of it is true?

"Tisha" tells the story of a young teacher, Anne Hobbs, who spent 1927-28 in the tiny town of Chicken, Alaska. It offers a fascinating look at the hardships and joys of living in rural Alaska during that period, and the hostility Hobbs faced from local whites when she dared to treat Indians as equals.

While the book is first-person, it is "as told to Robert Specht," and written 48 years later.

I don't doubt that the story is essentially true, but, I'm sorry, no one can remember events, after 48 years, in the kind of detail portrayed in the book. There are long passages of dialogue that must have been created by Specht. Specht says in his author's note that he added or altered events "only when I deemed it dramatically necessary."

It's a very readable book (especially good for young adults) and Specht does well making each character unique by, for example, using indiosyncratic speech patterns. He's good at imagery, too: He describes a man preparing for fistfight as "all crouched up like an animal, his fists going as if he was winding up yarn." Men watching the fight were "waiting like a pack of wolves for Cab to do their dirty work."

While I much enjoyed the book, I'm nagged by the difficulty of telling what was real and what was fictionalized. Some authors are careful to say what they know and what they're speculating on, but in this case, you can't tell.

The book's blend of love story, action and danger would make a wonderful movie.


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