(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Beginning his narrative “about a billion years ago,” when what would become Alaska was only “a small protuberance” jutting out from the northwest corner of what would become North America, James A. Michener discusses the tectonic and volcanic factors which combined to shape the earth’s northern region. By the fifteenth page, mastodons have come into the region. The author then traces the first migration of humans (Chukchis) into Alaska, as well as the Eskimos, the Athapaskans, and the Aleuts. By the hundredth page, Michener has moved his narrative into the eighteenth century and introduced Vitus Bering, the man through whom the Russians claimed Alaska as their own.

Michener devotes seven hundred-plus pages to the last 260 or so of those “billion years,” drawing his readers through such events as the sale of Alaska by the Russians to the United States, the discovery of the Yukon gold field, the development of the salmon industry, the building of the Alcan Highway, and the discovery of oil. Unfortunately, however, Michener peoples the bulk of his narrative with characters who seem as lifelessly flat as the talking mummy kept by the Aleut shaman Lunasaq. Not only is most of the dialogue stiff and completely expositional (presented solely to convey information), but the characters are also not developed much beyond the adjectives used to portray them--the fictional Innokenti Poznikov is “brash, ill-mannered,” and “arrogant, opinionated, brutal.” Michener insists that his readers dislike Innokenti, and so they do. The subtlety that allows a reader to come to his own conclusions is thus absent. While ALASKA is often informative in a general way, as have been the best of Michener’s works, Michener perfunctorily presents his story and leaves the reader wishing for a more substantial reward for his time.

Literary Techniques

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

Because Michener's novels include such a variety of information, it may seem that he uses an army of researchers to help him. But Michener,...

(The entire section is 152 words.)

Ideas for Group Discussions

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

Like most of Michener's novels, Alaska seems to be a stitching together of separate but interrelated stories, and like most of...

(The entire section is 489 words.)

Social Concerns

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

In Alaska Michener focuses on the major themes of his previous works. He is most concerned with man's intolerance and inhumanity...

(The entire section is 157 words.)

Literary Precedents

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

Michener has been called the literary descendent of historical novelists such as Galdos, Balzac, Zola, and Dos Passos. The extended length of...

(The entire section is 209 words.)

Related Titles

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

In structure, content, and theme, Alaska is most similar to Michener's novels Hawaii (1959) and Centennial (1974); they...

(The entire section is 166 words.)


(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

Many of Michener's books offer an introduction to an exotic locale with which the reader is not yet familiar. This novelty of setting is...

(The entire section is 152 words.)