The Great Alone

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Janet Dailey is one of the most prolific and best-selling contemporary romance authors. In THE GREAT ALONE, she expands her scope to the epic novel. Beginning in 1742, with the arrival of Russian fur traders and explorers in the Aleutian Islands, Dailey chronicles the history of Alaska. The story is personalized since it follows the lives of Russian Luka Kharkov, his Aleut concubine, Winter Swan, and their descendants.

As these people move across the Aleutians and on to mainland Alaska, the reader experiences the pioneering efforts that were necessary to colonize such a vast territory. The Tarakanovs, Blackwoods, and Coles (Kharkov’s descendants) themselves reflect the ethnic and cultural diversity of Alaska’s inhabitants: Russian, Aleut, Tlingit, Eskimo, Scandinavian, and American. Dailey successfully shows the initial acceptance of different races, the change to cruel intolerance, and the eventual shift to legislated integration.

She also tells of the greed that has accompanied the different waves of colonists. The land has long been plundered of its rich natural resources, and as new riches have been discovered, new spoilers have arrived to capitalize on the bounty. Dailey uses a recurring phrase, “they always leave,” to illustrate this process of using and then abandoning the land and its people.

Although elements of a typical romance are present, this is not a conventional formula novel. Dailey’s concern here is to illustrate how great hardship and endurance have shaped a fiercely independent, self-sufficient population that is capable of standing alone and rebounding from personal and natural disasters. The characters do not have easy answers and happy endings, but the reader will feel a sense of victory at the triumph of human spirit. For many readers, THE GREAT ALONE also will open little-known chapters of American history and dispel some persistent myths about the largely unfamiliar forty-ninth state.