In pristine prose, Geye inhabits Norway's frigid landscape where a father, unable to chart his own voyage of discovery, plans to set his daughter free from their small village, sending her across the sea to a new life. Understanding the depth of their sacrifice, his wife does not complain, supporting the decision. The man is Odd Einer Eide, his wife Inger, their daughter Thea: "What mother's daughter is not her own better self?"
Northernmost is the story of Eide, returning to his home in Norway in 1897 to interrupt his own funeral after having been assumed lost in the Arctic. Another event is set in 1997, when Greta Nansen, at the end of her marriage, detours to the village of Hammerfest where her great grandmother, Thea, was born, Greta the descendant of the girl sent away to find a better life far from the small Norwegian town at the top of the earth. The novel marries two lives in the northern terrain bound by blood a century apart. It is a land of shocking beauty and agonizing grief, humanity stark against a landscape that holds life and death in a moment.
Two dramas unfold five generations apart, men and women navigating a landscape that offers beauty and terror in equal measure. Begun in the Arctic and detouring to Minnesota, each tale comes full circle, completing the cycle. The blood of generations takes root, calling lost children home and survivors to rest their weary bones.
In exquisite detail, Geye continues the language of then and now, the birthing of the self in its season of life. In each drama, nature is a character, whether in the returning of Odd Einer Eide to his wife, Inger, who believes herself a widow until her husband walks into the ceremony; or Greta Nansen, drawn to the land of her forbears as she severs marital ties, drawing on the strength of ancestors and their determination to coexist in this landscape, to heal her grief and fashion her future.
Life and death are joined through generations of hard living, sorrows and joys trapped in the frozen tundra. The bleak and the beautiful are caught in time, centuries of human struggle enshrined for eternity. Decades apart, hardened hearts ache with returning life, bittersweet memories of a lover's embrace or the interminable grief of an ending.
Whichever the setting, Geye captures the essence of place, each time awakening an ancient memory, a return to a sacred beginning. To read this author's stories is to travel through time, to taste the wilderness in its shattering beauty and violence, immersed in the lives of those who survived the fury of nature's extremes, raised families and taught their progeny the harsh lessons of survival. These disparate, linked tales seem somehow familiar, a nascent dream buried in years long past.
In each of Geye's novels I have felt at home, connected to existence at its most elemental. His characters are rendered from raw material, shaped by a series of choices, scarred and grooved by the passage of years. The world is almost unrecognizable from today's chaos, the jumbled cacophony and careless destruction that daily sheds its treasures, insatiable, demanding. Peter Geye makes me yearn for that pared simplicity, with all its violence and beauty, harsh lessons and finite moments, a measure of comprehension, even gratitude at the end of a day. I am profoundly grateful for Northernmost, this gift, a reminder.