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Beyond the North Wind
By Mark Carew
Reviewed by Yair Ben-Zvi
I've been reviewing books for going on five years now. I remember my first 'official' one, that being Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice. Short version: I hated it. But from there, and pretty consistently, my reading was divided into two categories: the reading of the 'classics' with their mountains of hype, scholarship, interpretations, and legions of acolytes and apostates loving and hating them respectively. Then there were the new releases from authors, somehow, writing and even existing today. But the books from the latter category, like the former, all came from major publishing houses.
Now, I'm no stranger to the small presses or independent publishing houses. I make it a ritual to try and get to the Los Angeles Book fair every year. While there I check out the major publishers but also the smaller ones too, you never know what you might find, you know? I do have to admit that, save for Bukowksi, I can't really say for certain that I've read any other writers from the smaller presses (at least from this century, in this country, in this language).
That rambling preamble out of the way, let me get to the book at hand. In short: I was and am surprised, in all the best ways. Mark Carew's Beyond the North Wind has all the depth and grace of a novel published by any of the major houses. Carew brings in his story with the protagonist Anna, a heroine that is real enough to be a relation, is so human that I wouldn't be surprised to meet her on the street, as the mother or aunt of a friend of mine.
The story is perfectly paced and though the beginning is a bit meandering and slow it more than makes up for it with the journey up the mountain (and the absolutely gorgeous descriptions of the snow, the storms, and the glaciers) that rivals anything I've found in international literature I've read up to this date. I feel as though I've walked in Norway myself after finishing this book, and have met these characters and felt their subtle joys and trembling sorrows. And the journey's second half, where Anna, continuing her sojourn to find out what happened to her lost husband Emil, finds her way to an artists/philosophers colony, is similarly well told. It takes its time and allows the new characters to be as human and realistically depicted as Anna.
As a small negative, there were some editorial problems. Piddling issues, nothing that mars the text at all, in fact one more editorial sweep would've taken care of it. And the relationship between Anna and Alexander towards the end, felt a bit cliche, at least the build up, certainly not the conclusion, a bit too reminiscent of Nicholas Sparks for my liking.
The conclusion is satisfying. Haunting and sweet, with just enough of a mystery left to leave me curious, leave me wondering and a bit sad that I had to leave this imagined Norway so soon.
Read it, it's very good, even great at times.
Out of 10: 7.2