OUTSIDE PASSAGE: A Memoir of an Alaskan Childhood by Julia Scully

OUTSIDE PASSAGE: A Memoir of an Alaskan Childhood

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An anecdotal and generally unreflective coming-of-age account set mainly in the Alaskan frontier. A former editor of Modern Photography, Scully endured an impoverished childhood: She and her older sister were placed in children's homes in San Francisco and later Seattle while their mother, Rose, a Jewish immigrant from Europe, struggled to make a go of it on the remote Seward Peninsula in and about Nome, working as a cook in a gold-mining camp, operating a roadhouse, and finding work in the home and shop of a Jewish merchant. Julia and her sister, Lillian, later followed their mother, living isolated but seemingly happy lives. Seasonal migrants, the family would shelter in Nome; it is here that Rose set up a housekeeping arrangement with Hessel, a liquor-store owner with a wife in San Franciso, who Scully claims ensured their isolation from the community and led Rose to seek an abortion, a fact gleaned by Scully years later. Nome, at the beginning of the war, when Scully was 12, bustled with sailors and marines, and in a town with few available women, young Julia has an eventful teenagehood. Soon after the war, she makes a break with the family and leaves to attend college. Scully's portraits of the gold miners, Eskimos, and sailors are warm and amusing, but throughout most of this short book, the depictions of Rose and Lillian are emotionally detached; Scully is unable, maybe due to her youth at the time and the subsequent span of years, to create an interior life for either member of her family, and her own emotions and concerns remain unrevealed, save for a sudden gush of self-awareness in the final chapters. This chronology of a hard and unusual childhood offers a good snapshot of the straggles of a Depression-era family in one of the more remote outposts in America, but it lacks the dramatic impact that these circumstances conferred upon the three women.

Pub Date: April 1st, 1998
ISBN: 160223129X
Page count: 240pp
Publisher: Random