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Deanne Burch
Author
Journey Through Fire and Ice
Deanne Burch, author
At the age of twenty three, Deanne Burch accompanied her husband, Ernest Burch ( Tiger) to the Inuit village of Kivalina, Alaska, a barrier island 23 miles above the Arctic Circle. Tiger was conducting a participant study of the natives whereas Deanne, was a city girl, ethnocentric, naïve, and completely unprepared for the journey she was about to embark on. In Kivalina, she lived on the edge of two worlds — the one she left behind and the one she where she reluctantly participated in all aspects of the women’s lives. Skinning seals, cleaning and drying fish, cutting beluga and caribou to store became her way of life. Plumbing, running water and electricity were not available. Loneliness was a constant companion although she tried to be accepted by the Inuit women who were suspicious of all white women. Gradually Deanne adapted to living in a culture she knew nothing about. The midnight sun was followed by relentless darkness and brutal weather. With this, came a journey into the unknown — first, was a fateful camping trip where they nearly lost their lives. It was followed six days later by a fire in their house where Tiger was badly burned. During the three months Tiger spent in the hospital, his only wish was to return to Kivalina and finish what he had started. Despite horrific burns on his face and hands and seared lungs from which he never recuperated, Tiger and Deanne returned to the village to complete the study. Instead of believing in fairy tales and happy endings, Deanne became a woman of strength ready to face the next challenge. Over fifty years later she remembers the young girl who left on an unknown journey, a journey that will live in her heart forever.
Reviews
In this richly detailed memoir, Burch takes readers back to the mid-1960s, when, as a newlywed, she joined her anthropologist husband Tiger on an extended visit to the Inuit village of Kivalina, Alaska, to assist him in his participant study of the natives. As the then 23-year-old Burch, a sheltered Canadian urbanite, adjusts to culture shock and the unforgiving environment, she struggles with homesickness, a sense of alienation, and her husband’s preoccupation with work. Learning to live off the land, including skinning seals, Burch gradually settles into her new life. However, when tragedy strikes, the couple’s plans for the future are thrown into jeopardy, forcing them both to adapt and overcome.

Burch’s narrative opens with the author looking back upon her youth, memories of family, and burgeoning relationship with her husband-to-be from a perspective some fifty-plus years later. While evocative and wistful, the prose feels somewhat overblown. Once Burch shifts into a present-tense format to detail her everyday Alaskan life, however, the story gains confidence and focus. She exhibits a great eye for detail and atmosphere, bringing the frozen reaches of the Arctic Circle of 1964 to life in all their chilly, remote wonder. Readers will feel the shock of the world she portrays, one lacking almost every modern convenience.

Some elements of the Burches’ era and outsider perspective can feel jarring to contemporary readers—including the frequent use of Eskimo over Inuit and Tiger’s insistence that “the natives are satisfied with what they have and always seem to be happy.” One startling reminder of the mores of the era is that despite her unhappiness, Burch accepts that “Young women in the early 1960s didn’t question whether or not they could live the life their husband wanted. They went ahead with his wishes and hoped for the best.” Nevertheless, Burch’s resilience shines through the story, and her firsthand accounts of living off the land, Inuit-style, are vividly detailed, resulting in an intimate look at a remote culture before it was reached by the changing times.

Takeaway: An intimate portrait of everyday life amongst the Inuit people of the 1960s, as viewed through the lens of an inexperienced outsider.

Great for fans of: Fred Bruemmer's Arctic Memories: Living With the Inuit, Sheila Watt-Cloutier’s The Right to Be Cold.

Production grades
Cover: A
Design and typography: A
Illustrations: A
Editing: A
Marketing copy: B+

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