Book Review of
Karl Marlantes’s debut novel Matterhorn has been hailed as a modern classic of war literature. In his new novel, Deep River, Marlantes turns to another mode of storytelling―the family epic―to craft a stunningly expansive narrative of human suffering, courage, and reinvention.
In the early 1900s, as the oppression of Russia’s imperial rule takes its toll on Finland, the three Koski siblings―Ilmari, Matti, and the politicized young Aino―are forced to flee to the United States. Not far from the majestic Columbia River, the siblings settle among other Finns in a logging community in southern Washington, where the first harvesting of the colossal old-growth forests begets rapid development, and radical labor movements begin to catch fire. The brothers face the excitement and danger of pioneering this frontier wilderness―climbing and felling trees one-hundred meters high―while Aino, foremost of the books many strong, independent women, devotes herself to organizing the industry’s first unions. As the Koski siblings strive to rebuild lives and families in an America in flux, they also try to hold fast to the traditions of a home they left behind.
Layered with fascinating historical detail, this is a novel that breathes deeply of the sun-dappled forest and bears witness to the stump-ridden fields the loggers, and the first waves of modernity, leave behind. At its heart, Deep River is an ambitious and timely exploration of the place of the individual, and of the immigrant, in an America still in the process of defining its own identity.
Deep River by Karl Marlantes is an epic multi generational story of a family that lives on the Washington Oregon border during the early 1900’s. I picked this book up at a small bookstore in Cannon Beach, Oregon during a trip that my husband, and I took to Oregon for our 25th anniversary. This is not the typical type of book I would buy on vacation, but the book was based in an area I am very familiar with because I grew up in the NW corner of Oregon. Deep River is also by an author from a coastal town in Oregon that I have been to many times. The subject of the book though was what finally sold me on it.
This book is about logging in the area along the Columbia River during the early 1900’s. I grew up in a small logging town in the far NW corner of Oregon. I grew up around logging and loggers. I have friends that still log. I have family that logged during the same time period that this book covers. It was a book I felt I needed to read because I could relate to so much of it, and although I have mixed feelings about the book, I am so glad I read it!
This is the first book by Karl Marlantes that I have read, and I instantly knew that I would love his writing. His description of the weather, trees, buildings, rivers, etc. were so well done. At times, I felt like I was back in Oregon on a rainy day in the forest.
This is an epic family saga type of book. The character development in this book is complex, but so well done. It follows a Finnish family of two brothers and a sister over the course of their lives. Again the author knew well the history of the area he was writing about and the people that settled there years ago.
I thought the author also did a great job describing logging camps and towns during the early 1900’s. Logging is a dangerous job. The logging camps of the early 1900’s were not pleasant and once again I could tell that the author did his research and knew the topic well. I don’t read a lot of historical fiction because too many authors take liberties with history, but I didn’t feel that way about this author. Because I am from the area, I think overall he did a good job of staying accurate and true to the history.
Now for what I didn’t like… The book was a little too PG-13 for me. Some of the content fit the story line and character development, but it didn’t need to be as graphic as it was. I have said it before and I am sure I will say it again, I don’t think a book needs to have those detailed PG-13 descriptions to be good. A good book should be good without that content.
I could have done without the mystical fantasy weird parts. Amazon has this book listed in the historical fantasy fiction. I am not sure I agree that it is in the fantasy category, but there are some aspects of it that were a bit strange when it came to the mystical Native American stuff. I could have done with out that part.
There were also times that I felt the book was a bit too political. A big part of the story covers the labor unions during the early 1900’s, and the logging and timber workers strikes that took place. That is all part of history and an important part of the history of the Pacific NW, but at times I think the details and views bogged down the story. The same thing could have been said in fewer words and less politically. At least in my opinion, it could have been. 🙂
There were also characters that I just didn’t like, and their decisions made me cringe. Aino was one of those characters. I had trouble liking her or the choices that she made. But I see why the author made her part of the story. There were a couple of times I almost set aside the book simple because I don’t like books that make me hate a character in the story. At times, I really hated the decisions Aino made and the consequences of them. In the end, I stuck with the book and finished it it, and I am glad I did.
I read a review that said this book was the Pacific NW version of Gone With the Wind or Lonesome Dove. I think it very well might become that. It tells the history of logging in the Northwest in a readable interesting way that I think many people will enjoy. This is also part of history that few people outside of the Pacific NW know about. If you want to learn some history of Oregon and Washington you will probably find this fascinating.
Overall I am glad I read it. Deep River made me think. It made me think, not only about the area I grew up but about the history of the overall area and the choices people have made over the last 100+ years. This book is long, but I think it would make a great book club book because there is so much to discuss in this one. I wish I knew someone else that has read it because I would love to talk about it with someone! This book though is not a book that everyone will enjoy and because of the PG-13 content it is a book, I do recommend with caution.