Authors: Kristin Hannah
“I will always love you,” she whispered to the wind. “Always.”
July 4, 2009
by Lenora Allbright Walker
If you had told me when I was a kid that someday a newspaper would come to me to talk about Alaska on the fiftieth anniversary of its statehood, I would have laughed. Who would have thought my photographs would mean so much to so many? Or that I would take a picture of the Valdez oil spill that would change my life and make it onto the cover of a magazine?
Really, my husband is the one you should speak to. He’s overcome every challenge this state has to offer and is still standing. He’s like one of those trees that grow on a sheer granite cliff. In the wind and snow and icy cold, they should fall, but they don’t. Stubbornly, they remain. Thrive.
I am just an ordinary Alaskan wife and mother who prides herself primarily on the children she has raised and the life she has managed, somehow, to wrest from this harsh landscape. But like all women’s stories, mine has more to it than sometimes appears on the surface.
My husband’s family is practically Alaskan royalty. His grandparents carved a life out of the remote wilderness with a hatchet and a dream. The quintessential American pioneers, they homesteaded hundreds of acres and started a town and settled in. My children, MJ, Kenai, and Cora, are the fourth generation to grow up on that land.
My family was different. We came to Alaska in the seventies. It was a turbulent time, full of protests and marches and bombings and kidnappings. Young women were being abducted from college campuses. The Vietnam War had divided the country.
We came to Alaska to run away from that world. Like so many cheechakos before and since, we planned poorly. We didn’t have enough food or supplies or money. We had almost no skills. We moved into a cabin in a remote part of the Kenai Peninsula and learned fast that we didn’t know enough. Even our car—a VW bus—was a poor choice.
Someone said to me once that Alaska didn’t create character; it revealed it.
The sad truth is that the darkness in Alaska revealed the darkness in my father.
He was a Vietnam veteran, a POW. We didn’t know then what all that meant. Now, we know. In our enlightened world, we know how to help men like my father. We understand the ways in which war can break the strongest mind. Then, there was no help. Nor was there much help for a woman who was his victim.
Alaska—the darkness and the cold and the isolation—got inside of my father in a terrible way, turned him into one of the many wild animals who populate the state.
But we didn’t know that in the beginning; how could we? We dreamed, like so many others, and planned our course and duct-taped our Alaska or Bust banner on our bus and headed north, unprepared.
This state, this place, is like no other. It is beauty and horror; savior and destroyer. Here, where survival is a choice that must be made over and over, in the wildest place in America, on the edge of civilization, where water in all its forms can kill you, you learn who you are. Not who you dream of being, not who you imagined you were, not who you were raised to be. All of that will be torn away in the months of icy darkness, when frost on the windows blurs your view and the world gets very small and you stumble into the truth of your existence. You learn what you will do to survive.
That lesson, that revelation, as my mother once told me about love, is Alaska’s great and terrible gift. Those who come for beauty alone, or for some imaginary life, or those who seek safety, will fail.
In the vast expanse of this unpredictable wilderness, you will either become your best self and flourish, or you will run away, screaming, from the dark and the cold and the hardship. There is no middle ground, no safe place; not here, in the Great Alone.
For we few, the sturdy, the strong, the dreamers, Alaska is home, always and forever, the song you hear when the world is still and quiet. You either belong here, wild and untamed yourself, or you don’t.
I come from a long line of adventurers. My grandfather left Wales at fourteen to become a cowboy in Canada. My father has spent his life in search of the extraordinary, the remote, the unusual. He goes where most people only imagine going.
In 1968, my father thought that California was becoming too crowded. He and my mother decided to do something about it. They loaded all of us (three young kids—and two of our friends—and the family dog) into a VW bus. In the heat of the summer, off we went. We drove around America, through more than a dozen states, looking for a place to belong. We found it in the green and blue beauty of the Pacific Northwest.
Years later, my dad went in search of adventure again. He found it in Alaska, on the shores of the magnificent Kenai River. There, my parents met homesteaders Laura and Kathy Pedersen, a mother and daughter, who had operated a resort on that incomparable stretch of riverfront for years. In the early eighties, these two pioneering families came together and began a company that would come to be known as the Great Alaska Adventure Lodge. Three generations of my family have worked at the lodge. All of us have fallen in love with the Last Frontier.
I’d like to thank the Johns—Laurence, Sharon, Debbie, Kent, and Julie—and Kathy Pedersen Haley, for their boundless enthusiasm and vision in creating such a magical place.
I’d also like to thank Kathy Pedersen Haley and Anita Merkes for their expertise and editorial help in re-creating the homesteading world of Alaska and Kachemak Bay in the seventies and eighties. Your insight and support for this project meant so much to me. Any remaining mistakes are, of course, mine.
Also, to my brother, Kent—another adventurer—who answered an endless stream of bizarre questions about Alaska for me. You are, as always, a rock star.
Thanks to Carl and Kirsten Dixon and the fabulous team at the Tutka Bay Lodge on Kachemak Bay for welcoming me to their lovely corner of the world.
I’d also like to thank a few very special people who helped immeasurably on this novel, especially in the hardest of times, when I felt ready to give up. My brilliant editor, Jennifer Enderlin, who waited patiently, gave advice when asked, and then waited patiently some more. I am so grateful for the extra time and your support. Thanks to Jill Marie Landis and Jill Barnett, who encouraged me when I needed it most; to Ann Patty, who taught me to trust myself; to Andrea Cirillo and Megan Chance, who are always there for me; and to Kim Fisk, who believed in this story and the Alaskan setting from the get-go and was never afraid to say so.
Thanks to Tucker, Sara, Kaylee, and Braden. You have expanded the boundaries of love for me and given me a new world in the middle of my life.
And finally, to my husband of thirty years, Benjamin. We have been partners in this writing thing from the beginning, and none of it would be possible without your love and support. Falling in love with you was the best thing I ever did.
Comfort & Joy
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New York Times
bestselling author of more than twenty novels. A former lawyer turned writer, she is the mother of one son and lives with her husband in the Pacific Northwest. You can sign up for email updates
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This is a work of fiction. All of the characters, organizations, and events portrayed in this novel are either products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.
THE GREAT ALONE.
Copyright © 2018 by Kristin Hannah. All rights reserved. For information, address St. Martin’s Press, 175 Fifth Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10010.
Cover design by Michael Storrings
Cover photographs: mountains © Design Pics Inc. / Getty Images; road © VikaSuh / Shutterstock.com
The Library of Congress has cataloged the print edition as follows:
Names: Hannah, Kristin, author.
Title: The great alone / Kristin Hannah.
Description: First edition.|New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2018.
Identifiers: LCCN 2017036271|ISBN 9780312577230 (hardcover)|ISBN 9781250193773 (international, sold outside the U.S., subject to rights availability)|ISBN 9781250165619 (ebook)
Subjects: LCSH: Domestic fiction.
Classification: LCC PS3558.A4763 G74 2018|DDC 813/.54—dc23
LC record available at
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First U.S. Edition: February 2018
First International Edition: February 2018