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Kiska

a novel

John Smelcer

1942. 14-year-old Kiska’s Aleutian Island home is a peaceful paradise. Then Japan invades the islands, and an American ship arrives to evacuate her village. Her people are taken to an internment camp 2,000 miles away, with few possessions, and abandoned in unlivable conditions by the U.S. government. Based on true events, Kiska is the story of a courageous girl who, with the help of a mysterious shaman, breaks with tradition in order to save her people.

Foreword Reviews Book of the Day, Oct. 17, 2017
https://www.forewordreviews.com/

Kirkus Reviews

In 1942, 14-year-old protagonist Kiska Baranoff’s island world turns upside down after Japan attacks Alaska.

For centuries Kiska’s people, the Aleuts, have lived according to their traditional ways on their island homes off the coast of Alaska…. Not long after the Japanese attack, men in American Army uniforms land on Kiska’s island. They immediately round up all the villagers and force them into the belly of a ship to be taken to an undisclosed destination. Three hundred other Aleutians from many other islands in the archipelago are also forced onto the ship. It then travels 2,000 miles away and leaves them on Admiralty Island, an unfamiliar and stark environment. There they are housed in a decrepit building, an abandoned cannery that the Aleuts eventually improve. Soon after meeting an elder shaman, Agafon Krukoff, Kiska becomes his apprentice. Through his teachings, Kiska discover a way to help her people survive. Kiska narrates, describing the inhumane conditions, the soldiers’ racism, and terrible losses. The quiet tone of Smelcer’s text softens the cruelty the Aleutians suffer, and in the character of Kiska, he gives readers a strong, resourceful heroine.

A look at an obscure but important part of United States history.
(Historical fiction. 10-14)

Foreword Reviews

Reviewed by Catherine Thureson

Kiska is the heart-wrenching story of a fourteen-year-old girl living on the Aleutian Islands of Alaska at the beginning of World War II. Her ordinary, happy life in a small hunting village quickly changes when, after Japan invades neighboring islands, she and the rest of the islands’ inhabitants are rounded up by United States soldiers and sent to internment camps.

Kiska and her neighbors are moved into an abandoned cannery and given only an army blanket each. There is no electricity, no plumbing, and little food. The American soldiers assigned to detain them are unsympathetic and often cruel.

Though the conditions are harsh, Kiska learns to survive. She becomes friends with a boy named Sasha and an old man named Agafon. Agafon teaches her to fish, though it is forbidden for girls, so that she can secretly help feed her people.

The fear and horror felt by the interned Aleutian people comes through clearly in Kiska’s story. So, too, does their will to survive, to hope, and to try to do good even in the darkest circumstances.

Even though the injustices described are difficult to accept, Kiska is hard to put down. Photos in the back of the book offer a window into Kiska’s time and place, while discussion questions with each chapter will help young adults process the story and its lessons.

Though it is a work of fiction, Kiska is based on very real events from a tragic and nearly forgotten time in American history. Its lessons are ones that all would do well to remember. Smelcer’s beautifully written story of Kiska, and of the misery she faced with hope and love, is nearly impossible to forget.

Midwest Book Review, Reviewer’s Bookwatch

Review by Donna Rhinesmith

Perhaps there has never been a more important time to ask: how far do our rights extend during a time of conflict? A new book by John Smelcer offers a unique perspective on a seldom-mentioned event in the history of pre-statehood Alaska. Kiska tells the story of the internment of native Alaskans during World War II. Set in 1942, the story is framed in the voice of Kiska, now a grandmother looking back at her own fourteenth year when japan invaded islands near her Aleutian island home and her family is removed to shelter in an old salmon cannery 2000 miles away.

As Smelcer describes life in the cannery, he never departs from the humanity of Kiska's intensely personal story. Among the richly-drawn characters, the reader meets sister Donia, who is driven to desperation after losing her husband and child; brother Peter, who is out hunting and initially left behind; and Agafon, a mystical character who teaches Kiska to listen, to hunt, and to survive. Through circumstances that reflect hard lives and the struggle for survival, Kiska never stops looking for hope and relationship.

Kiska presents a rich blend American history, cultural heritage, and powerful storytelling intertwined in a unique and enlightening way. The book is accompanied by documentation, photographs, and the author's own account of the origins the story. Kiska is a readable novel that fits well within an American history and literature curriculum for young adults, but should also be embraced by the adult reader who will be challenged and informed by this story.

About the Author

John Smelcer is the author of fifty books. His books of mythology include  Trickster, The Raven and the Totem (introduced by Joseph Campbell), and A Cycle of Myths. In 1994, he co-edited the acclaimed anthology Durable Breath: Contemporary Native American Poetry. His writing has appeared in over 400 magazines and journals worldwide, including in The Atlantic.

The son of an Alaska Native father, John served as executive director of his tribe’s Heritage Foundation, compiling and editing The Ahtna Noun Dictionary and Pronunciation Guide (forewords by Noam Chomsky and Steven Pinker). He is now the last living tribal member who can read, write, and speak Ahtna. For four years he served as the director of Chenega Native Corporation’s Language and Cultural Preservation Project, working with elders to compile The Alutiiq Noun Dictionary and Pronunciation Guide (foreword by H. H. The Dalai Lama) and editing The Day That Cries Forever and We are the Land, We are the Sea. In 1999, Ahtna Chief Harry Johns designated John a Traditional Culture Bearer, awarding him the necklaces of the late Chief Jim McKinley. That same year, John was nominated for the Alaska Governor’s Award for his preservation of Alaska Native languages and cultures.

The Trap, John’s first novel, received the James Jones Prize for the First Novel and was named a Notable Book by the American Library Association and the New York Public Library. The novels The Trap and Edge of Nowhere were both published in the UK and the U.S., and Lone Wolves was included on the American Library Association’s Amelia Bloomer list as one of the best feminist books for young readers in 2013.

Read more at www.johnsmelcer.com.

Kiska • John Smelcer

188 pages • ISBN 978-1-935248-93-4 • Trade paperback, $12.95

e-Book available

Published by Leapfrog Press LLC • www.leapfrogpress.com

Distributed to the trade by Consortium Book Sales & Distribution • www.cbsd.com

Kiska

 

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