Thursday, February 03, 2011

An adventure in the Arctic from a Chico novelist


Phyl Manning spends her time in Chico and New Hampshire, but in her imagination she lives among the Inuit, specifically those in the high Arctic reaches, the Inupiat. Her new novel (a sequel to "Kiti On Ice") is "Arctic Circles" ($15.99 in paperback from Raven's Wing Books). In this story Kiti is now grandmother to fourteen-year-old Nik (pronounced "neek") and his older brother, Sitok. Artistic Nik is not much of a hunter, but a series of events forces him to confront some of the fiercest animals in the wilderness and brings him face-to-face with the "dog people."

The author will be signing copies of her books tonight at 7:00 p.m. at Lyon Books in Chico.

The "dog people" are the kalunait, those with "heavy eyebrows," Westerners from the south. An anthropologist, Clifford Belson, travels to Nik's village and brings his twelve-year-old daughter, Bonnie ("PAH-nee" to the villagers).

Because of her outfit Nik thinks she is another male, someone wanting to study the ways of the Inupiat, and together with Sitok the three share some breathless adventures. "Nik's hunting improved because he himself now had someone to teach. On rare days, Sitok took both of them out with him--for fish, for seal." And then comes the encounter with Nanuk, the great bear. Sitok nearly loses his life; Nik finds unexpected courage; Bonnie saves the sled-dog Nuko.

It is 1935. Far away to the south great nations are struggling with economic depression and rumors of Nazi aggression. "And 1935 will be the last generation for Arctic Inupiat to live within their five-thousand-year-old tradition, for civilized people and now whole governments to the south are encroaching, are determined to emend these primitive folk who have for so long lived in health and harmony with their land and with each other." Some Inupiat have journeyed south to villages so vast they actually have a name; among them is Nik's father.

But now Nik's parents have disappeared in a flood and he is determined to find them. Nik's growing maturity and resourcefulness form the centerpiece of the novel and make for a gripping tale suitable for young adults.

Never settled, Nik and his kin always prepare food caches for the next journey. "Inupiat travel--that's what they do."

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