English astrophysicist Yasmin and her deaf 10-year old daughter Ruby arrive in Anchorage to join their wildlife filmmaker husband/father who has being staying in a tiny Inupiat village in the far north. At the airport they are met not by Matt but by the police, who inform Yasmin there’s been a tragic accident and everyone in the village, including her visiting husband, has died in a catastrophic fire. Yasmin refuses to believe Matt is dead, despite overwhelming “evidence,” and sets out to travel up the Dalton Hwy., into the teeth of a ferocious Arctic blizzard, racing to find and rescue her husband before the brutal winter kills him (assuming he truly is still alive).
The story is told in alternating points of view, mostly between Yasmin and Ruby, whose trusty laptop gives her the ability to communicate beyond limited sign language and lip reading. Lupton skillfully weaves together many plot threads into a profoundly affecting story: the Alfredsons’ possibly-threatened marriage, a very creepy environmentalist, the dubious involvement of big oil companies, a village’s right to determine their own fate, the increasing possibility of being stalked by a faceless evil, the sheer magnitude of the journey itself, rediscovering oneself, and the debate between parents whether to try mainstream the profoundly deaf Ruby, so she “fits in” with the hearing world or to let her be her own person, happy and comfortable in her silent world.
The titular silence can be regarded in a variety of ways; the silence of the black Arctic night, the silence of loneliness, of not being understood by others, and the silence of the deaf. And through it all the Alaskan Arctic and its violent weather is a character in itself, sometimes threatening, sometimes comforting, but always present. It all may sound too convoluted, but that’s just my poor attempt to describe a riveting and evocative story that echoes across many life issues. One of my favorite things is Ruby’s “Words Without Sound,” where she describes how a given word looks, tastes and feels… very insightful stuff. I loved this multifaceted book and highly recommend it.
–Ruth Ann, Paulina Springs, Sisters, OR