Pilgrim’s Wilderness: A True Story of Faith and Madness on the Alaska Frontier by Tom Kizzia
Publication Date: 2013
The Short Version:
A large family arrives in a back country Alaska village and before long appearances aren’t quite what they initially seem.
Why I Read It:
I bought this the week it released after reading a review online somewhere. It just sounded right up my alley.
From the publisher:
When Papa Pilgrim appeared in the Alaska frontier outpost of McCarthy with his wife and fifteen children in tow, his new neighbors had little idea of the trouble to come. The Pilgrim Family presented themselves as a shining example of the homespun Christian ideal, with their proud piety and beautiful old-timey music, but their true story ran dark and deep. Within weeks, Papa had bulldozed a road through the mountains to the new family home at an abandoned copper mine, sparking a tense confrontation with the National Park Service and forcing his ghost town neighbors to take sides in an ever-more volatile battle over where a citizen’s rights end and the government’s power begins.
I hadn’t read more than what the publisher’s blurb had said before starting this book. I was surprised and fascinated to discover some connections that Papa Pilgrim had with some rather famous people.
Kizzia does a good job of doling out the information in a way that the darker truths behind Papa Pilgrim are slowly revealed in the same way that the residents of McCarthy, Alaska discovered that the Pilgrim family was not what they first thought.
Papa Pilgrim (aka Robert Hale) was definitely a bizarre person. His ever evolving spirituality was never truly tied in with any mainstream religion. He was able to maintain his dominance over his wife an large family by keeping them isolated and uneducated.
There is definitely some twisted and ugly stuff in this book but the bright side is that his children have managed to come out of their messed up upbringing and find a better life and some happiness.