An analysis of the long history and perilous future of king salmon as well as an assessment of how the fish’s vitality directly correlates to that of Alaska as a whole.
Given the subtitle of the book, readers could be forgiven for expecting a straightforward travelogue. While that’s certainly part of it—debut author and London-based environmental writer Weymouth canoed roughly 2,000 miles down the famed Yukon River, “the longest salmon run in the world”—the narrative is largely about the fish itself and the people in the villages along the way who rely on it for sustenance, physically and economically. The king salmon is undoubtedly in decline, in both sheer numbers and average poundage. Many readers will assume that climate change is to blame, but the author discovered that the real reasons are much more complicated and go all the way back to the discoveries of gold and oil, when the wild Alaskan frontier became more commercialized and domesticated. Throughout the book, Weymouth introduces us to a memorable cast of colorful characters, including numerous Native families and some reality TV stars (the author posits, only half-jokingly, that Alaska has more per capita than any other state). Readers will also encounter a number of lively history lessons of salmon, the Native peoples of Alaska, and the state itself. As he writes, “the history of the salmon is the history of this land….[The Yukon] intimately connected the lives of a Tlingit Indian at the river’s source and a Yupik Eskimo on Alaska’s coast, two thousand miles away, even before these people were aware of each other’s existence. It is a link to peoples’ ancestors and their hope for their children’s children.”
In this timely story “of relationships, of the symbiosis of people and fish, of the imprint that one leaves on the other,” Weymouth keeps the pages turning to the very end.