ICE WINDOW: Letters from a Bering Strait Village: 1892–1902

Ellen Louise Kittredg Lopp, Author, Kathleen Lopp-Smith, Author, Kathleen Lopp Smith, Editor . Univ. of Alaska $34.95 (392p) ISBN 978-1-889963-20-4 ISBN 1-889963-21-6

This illuminating epistolary history is a labor of love by Lopp Smith, whose grandparents were Christian missionaries and teachers in the remote Alaskan province of Cape Prince of Wales. The author combines excerpts of diaries and letters her grandparents, Ellen Kittredge and Thomas Lopp, wrote, to carefully chronicle hardship, exploration, scandal and, above all, daily life. A vivid writer and keen observer, Kittredge recorded everything, usually while nursing a child: the amazing experience of "midnight sun"; a 600-mile missionary dogsled trip while pregnant; the butchering of a whale; the scandalous exile of one of the other whites in the area for adultery with a Native American; questions over theology as she attempts to teach Old Testament ideas to the "Eskimos." In conditions where "every drop of water comes from heating snow seven months of the year," where Kittredge (who bore six children during the decade) teaches, preaches and tends to the sick, money is worthless. Services are traded for scarce food. Siberians and gold rush miners bring disease as they pass through and Native infant mortality runs high. Yet despite these circumstances, Kittredge and Lopp work hard, take photographs (which they develop outside in sunlight), print a newsletter (The Eskimo Bulletin) and train Natives to set type as well as herd. Throughout, they retain hope while struggling to impart their worldview without disrupting that of Native culture ("the sacrifice would be in leaving," writes Kittredge). That these letters and diaries survive is a wonder; that Lopp Smith has done such an admirable job of bringing them to light is a revelation. (Jan.)

Reviewed on: 01/07/2002
Release date: 02/01/2002
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