NATALIA by Anne Miller Downes


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This book was reviewed in our March 1st bulletin- and some of us here feel it was very unfairly reviewed, with small attention paid to its basic values. So- since there is time still before publication date to give it a second chance, here is a review which we hope will cancel out the impression left by the earlier one.... Natalia presents a little known segment of American history- and not one in which we can have any pride -- the turnover from Russian suzerainty of Alaska to American possession. Sitka, capital of Alaska, was gay, prosperous, a center of activities in the areas that had brought fame. And- without warning- the Czar sold to America what the people of Alaska felt was not his to sell. The American army units- riffraff rather than regular troops- took over. The Indians were alienated. Violence and hatred were rife. The dispossessed Russians lost the homes they had built, the businesses they had developed -- and those who could left for a Russia they did not know. Against this seething resentment and unrest is set the story of a Russian girl, her dead mother nobly born, her three brothers lost to civilization, her father degenerating into drunkenness, but alert to the need of her future, mistakenly promising her hand to a rich, elderly upstart, who would protect her future. Natalia runs away to the protection of friendly Indians. Sensing his own failure, her father kills himself, and Natalia returns, to work with the Indians in the church school, to live in the stately but impoverished home- and to learn to love a young American writer, friend of the son of one of the trusted Americans in Sitka. At times the story bogs down in mass of historical detail; at times the attempt to present all sides of the murky picture causes confusion. But the research is evident- the historical panorama a useful contribution, at a moment in Alaska's history when our first stumbling steps of acquisition thrust a civilization back several generations. Anne Miller Downes, a veteran novelist, deserves recognition for what she has attempted here- though as a novel it has its shortcomings.

Pub Date: May 9th, 1960
Publisher: Lippincott