I think The Hatchet was a pivotal novel for me, it made me think about survival and resilience in a way I had never thought about before; and left me wondering about the abundance of food, the incredible power of tools and what it takes to make it out alive from a difficult situation.
(I have to stop and tell you that The girl Who Loved Tom Gordon by Stephen King marked such a moment, too, but in a deeper, different kind of way).
Gary Paulsen was an expert on survival and the outdoors, a great writer and a prolific one, at that. He passed away on October 2021, at age 82, and this book was the very last one he has written. It follows the growth and learning of a young orphan called Leif, who may be a fisherman of ancient times, with Nordic ideas about life and death, who lived inside boats, catching whales and eating smoked fish, since he was very little.
When a plague hits the small fish camp where he lives, the elders throw two kids inside a cedar canoe, intent on saving them from the poisoned air. Only Leif survives the trip; following the North wind, traipsing along a wild, fjord-riven shore, navigating from one danger to the next, trying to survive not only the guilt of being alive when so many have died, but listening for a purpose, for a reason to stay alive.
The language is simple and beautiful:
For a longest time he only knew, or thought he knew, he was dead. He had gone to that place in the dark world where all was without knowledge or understanding and what he believed was true did not really exist and when that was gone there was nothing to replace what he had been. Replace his life.
The quantity of animals, of intelligent creatures that are busy in their outdoor lives is such, the sheer silence of human activities so immense, that he might not find a reason to live. That is, until he tunes in, slowly, into the big song of the Earth, of the Sea, and feels connected to all of it. Just as Gary Paulsen did, in every moment of his long and eventful life.
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux (Byr)
Publish Date: January 11, 2022
BISAC Categories: Science & Nature – General Action & Adventure – Survival Stories