Catalogue


Afterlands : a novel /
Steven Heighton.
imprint
Boston : Houghton Mifflin, 2006.
description
406 p. : ill., 1 map ; 22 cm.
ISBN
0618139346
format(s)
Book
Holdings
More Details
imprint
Boston : Houghton Mifflin, 2006.
isbn
0618139346
catalogue key
5785334
A Look Inside
Excerpts
Excerpt from Book
Hartford, Connecticut, September 1876 An Esquimau playing Mendelssohn is a tremendous novelty. The local gentry fill the seats of the Main Street Memorial Hall, whiskery gentlemen in frock coats and wing collars, the ladies in gowns and layer-cake hats trimmed with ribbon and mock flora. Their elegant figures are shored up by trusses or corsets-synthetic exoskeletons fortified with whalebone. If any members of this audience make a connection between their own underclothes and the presence onstage of a child from the Arctic whaling grounds, they don't let on. They are effusive in their praise of the little Esquimau. She is clearly a prodigy. She is only ten years of age! She has been playing the piano for only three years! How charming she looks in her cream cotton dress with the puffed sleeves, the ends of her braids joined at the small of her back with a red ribbon bow. As they whisper and nod, a lush welling of self-appreciation and security warms their chests. In fact, Punnie is not playing as well as she did when rehearsing for the recital with her teacher, Mr Chusley, who will be performing after her and before the chief attraction, a master recitalist from Leipzig who is said to have known Mendelssohn personally. This lean and tousled master, seated severely in the front row, will be aware that the girl has committed a few slips. What he doesn't know is that her playing also lacks its usual earnest, beguiling zest. Punnie is dizzy and has to concentrate to suppress the dry scraping cough that has been gaining on her since April. Throughout the summer holiday she has been practising, as much as four hours a day. There is something unnerving, quietly violent, in her discipline. She's the sort of only child who lives for the endorsement of adults. More and more these days she coughs while she rehearses. She and her parents, Tukulito and Ebierbing-Hannah and Joe is how they are known to Americans-came down from the Arctic after the rescue over three years ago, but the poor child still carries the Far North in her lungs. So Mr Chusley puts it. He even urges her to practise less. Actually Punnie's cough began not in the Arctic but after their journey south. Stiff in the aisle seat of a middle row, Tukulito sees that her daughter is struggling, but the audience is so caught up in the spectacle of this oddly pallid Esquimau child playing one of Mendelssohn's Songs without Words-op. 30, no. 1 in E flat-that they don't notice. Tukulito's face has the waxen stillness of somebody watching the last stages of a shipwreck, trying to contain her alarm-a stillness that could be mistaken for calm. This is her usual expression. Only her eyes, sharp with practical understanding and quick sympathy, lend life to her face; enough life for a dozen faces. In fact, the child is something of a prodigy. Mr Chusley, a soft little man with sombre brown eyes, rumpled clothes and clovescented breath (and, unluckily for his dreams, stumpy hands and fingers), has said that he foresees fine fine things for the girl. Very fine indeed. And Tukulito grasps that this is not a man given to flattery. A stutterer, he keeps his utterances short. I've never yet tutored a child possessed of such a, such a faculty of silent concentration. Your Punnie seems to me utterly undistractable. Chusley does not then detour into ethnological conjecture, like some of the well-meaning Groton neighbours, on whether this is a specialized trait-a result of the savage's need for vigilance by the seal's breathing hole, or his wife's Oriental patience, acquired in the igloo waiting with the children for her mate's return. . . . For some years t
First Chapter
Hartford, Connecticut, September 1876

An Esquimau playing Mendelssohn is a tremendous novelty. The local gentry fill the seats of the Main Street Memorial Hall, whiskery gentlemen in frock coats and wing collars, the ladies in gowns and layer-cake hats trimmed with ribbon and mock flora. Their elegant figures are shored up by trusses or corsets—synthetic exoskeletons fortified with whalebone. If any members of this audience make a connection between their own underclothes and the presence onstage of a child from the Arctic whaling grounds, they don’t let on. They are effusive in their praise of the little Esquimau. She is clearly a prodigy. She is only ten years of age! She has been playing the piano for only three years! How charming she looks in her cream cotton dress with the puffed sleeves, the ends of her braids joined at the small of her back with a red ribbon bow. As they whisper and nod, a lush welling of self-appreciation and security warms their chests.
In fact, Punnie is not playing as well as she did when rehearsing for the recital with her teacher, Mr Chusley, who will be performing after her and before the chief attraction, a master recitalist from Leipzig who is said to have known Mendelssohn personally. This lean and tousled master, seated severely in the front row, will be aware that the girl has committed a few slips. What he doesn’t know is that her playing also lacks its usual earnest, beguiling zest. Punnie is dizzy and has to concentrate to suppress the dry scraping cough that has been gaining on her since April. Throughout the summer holiday she has been practising, as much as four hours a day. There is something unnerving, quietly violent, in her discipline. She’s the sort of only child who lives for the endorsement of adults. More and more these days she coughs while she rehearses. She and her parents, Tukulito and Ebierbing—Hannah and Joe is how they are known to Americans—came down from the Arctic after the rescue over three years ago, but the poor child still carries the Far North in her lungs. So Mr Chusley puts it. He even urges her to practise less.
Actually Punnie’s cough began not in the Arctic but after their journey south.
Stiff in the aisle seat of a middle row, Tukulito sees that her daughter is struggling, but the audience is so caught up in the spectacle of this oddly pallid Esquimau child playing one of Mendelssohn’s Songs without Words—op. 30, no. 1 in E flat—that they don’t notice. Tukulito’s face has the waxen stillness of somebody watching the last stages of a shipwreck, trying to contain her alarm—a stillness that could be mistaken for calm. This is her usual expression. Only her eyes, sharp with practical understanding and quick sympathy, lend life to her face; enough life for a dozen faces.
In fact, the child is something of a prodigy. Mr Chusley, a soft little man with sombre brown eyes, rumpled clothes and clovescented breath (and, unluckily for his dreams, stumpy hands and fingers), has said that he foresees fine fine things for the girl. Very fine indeed. And Tukulito grasps that this is not a man given to flattery. A stutterer, he keeps his utterances short. I’ve never yet tutored a child possessed of such a, such a faculty of silent concentration. Your Punnie seems to me utterly undistractable. Chusley does not then detour into ethnological conjecture, like some of the well-meaning Groton neighbours, on whether this is a specialized trait—a result of the savage’s need for vigilance by the seal’s breathing hole, or his wife’s Oriental patience, acquired in the igloo waiting with the children for her mate’s return. . . . For some years the life of the Esquimaux has gripped the romantic imagination. They’ve become a staple of polar adventure novels, which emphasize their fortitude, their loyalty, their stealth, their rare inscrutable lapses into cunning and violence. In the 1860s the fascination with Esquimaux even hatched a short-lived fad for duelling with bone harpoons. The Polaris debacle and Lieutenant Tyson’s subsequent drift on the ice with eighteen other castaways have made them even more popular; Tukulito’s husband Ebierbing was in some ways the hero of Tyson’s published account of the drift (as Second Mate Kruger was its villain), and this Esquimau family have been celebrities since settling in the port town of Groton, Connecticut.
Tukulito still thinks about Mr Kruger but has not heard from him in some time.
The child is small for her age, no grand piano ever looked huger. She will start a piece straight-backed on the bench but as she plays she will tip gradually forward so that by the last bar her face is just above the keys. (Mr Chusley has tried to correct this.) Her playing iss stronger now, op. 67, no. 5 in B minor, “The Shepherd’s Complaint.” Those firm-pacing, stately notes in the minor until, just as thhhhhe ear is tiring of the solemnity, the tune resolves into major.
Two rows ahead of Tukulito are a pair of gentlemen who arrived late and claimed these last seats in the house. The man on the aisle has black hair of collar length, pomaded and combed straight back to cover a bald patch. The rims of his ears stand well out from the sides of his narrow skull. The other has a shaggy head of white hair and, fuzzing the slabs of his claret cheeks, side-whiskers that Tukulito sees whenever he turns to address his companion. His voice is genial and raspy. The black-haired man doesn’t turn or even move his head when he speaks, but she hears him too: the ponderous baritone of a butler or mortician. Her hearing is the talent not just of a quiet observer used to being discussed, but also of the Arctic’s first professional interpreter, sought after by expeditions for the last twenty years.
The black-haired one’s accent is difficult to place, though she gathers he is a visitor, from Canada. She swallows her own impulse to cough so that she can keep listening to him as well as to Punnie. He might remark on Punnie’s playing. It matters to her as much as ever that the white people regard her family as something more than a sideshow attraction.
He says softly, I would agree that the question of the Esquimaux’ nationality is a highly vexed one. But I maintain that the girl must be deemed Canadian, because her home, in Cumberland Bay, is in Canadian territory.
But that would make her a subject of the British Empire, wouldn’t it?
Indeed it would, sir.
The white-haired man chuckles. You can hardly expect us to accept that, Mr Wilt. As you know, the family resides down here in Groton now. And the Polaris expedition was an American enterprise. No, no, Mr Wilt, our claim is thoroughly staked!
Hush! This from a beard and monocle in the next row.
For a few moments, they hush.
Then: Some have declared, sir, that your Polaris expedition was in fact a German one.
The shaggy bear’s-head shakes wryly. So now you’re claiming the Esquimaux for Germany!
Wilt gives a formal snort and then, as if conscious of being overheard, he whispers, It must be remembered that her parents enjoyed their first contact with civilization in England. They took tea and dined with the Queen herself! The accent of the mother, I am told, is still English!
True enough, Wilt, but— I understand furthermore that her husband has returned to the Canadian Arctic.
Returned, Mr Wilt, with another American expedition! And he is expected home within the year. Home, Wilt, to Groton!
This last phrase, inanely disembodied, hovers in the brief silence as Punnie completes her third of the Songs without Words—the “Cradle Song,” op. 67, no. 6 in E. Its dying trill is deftly executed. She stands under the soaring proscenium arch, buffeted by applause. Her hands dangle at her sides. The tight hard line of her mouth, which always gives her an aspect of stern determination, so adult, now suggests barely contained discomfort. She looks out at the crowd. As if overcome by the response, she brings a hand to her mouth, a fetching gesture, it appears, of bashful pleasure, astonishment at these accolades— but Tukulito understands. Her daughter’s coughing can’t be heard over the ovation. The two patriots surge to their feet with the rest of the house, and while continuing to clap heartily they go on hauling the child back and forth across international borders.
Some, of course, might submit that they are a nation unto themselves.
Well, but the Danes have also laid claim to that region, haven’t they?
It is news to me, sir, but I would be little surprised.
Tukulito remains seated, sheltered in the dark cavity formed by the people standing around her. The gentlemen’s words are not unamusing; still, shame flares along her collar and prickles her scalp under the hairpinned Brussels cap. After twenty years she is still not hardened to being spoken of as if absent or incapable of understanding. At first, in London, she quietly relished all the curiosity and attention, accepting it as evidence that her people’s faith in their own specialness was not misplaced. The Chosen People is what any nation thinks it is, until history disappoints it; or destroys it. In time her growing knowledge of English allowed her to grasp and forced her to brood on the commentary of onlookers, especially during her and Ebierbing’s tenure as fur-clad “Living Exhibits” at P. T. Barnum’s American Museum in New York, in 1862. By and by her outlook was changed, her pleasure in public life reduced. This shame is familiar. This shame is the trite undertow of her adult life. But now it forms part of a new and hybrid emotion as her corseted chest floods with the heat of her pride, and anxious love. These Sons and Daughters of the Distant North, Ladies and Gentlemen, possess some ninety words for Snow! Yet only a fraction of human feelings are clearly nameable. Most feelings are complex chords, like the ones Punnie plays, minor or major or suspended, each composed of many notes, a current joy, a lingering shame, a hunger, a loss, all sounding together in a pattern never to be revived. In New York during the war her first child, Butterfly, then later up north King William, slipped from the bone-crib of her arms, and Captain Hall, their beloved American sponsor, died up there as well. Punnie, her Punnie, is adopted after the custom of her people. Her Punnie, her pulse, the very spark in her eyes.
The North took her last baby, let the South preserve this one. She rises to join the ovation but is too short to see her daughter on the stage.

Copyright © 2005 by Steven Heighton. Reprinted by permission of Houghton Mifflin Company.
Full Text Reviews
Appeared in Publishers Weekly on 2005-11-21:
The retrofitted U.S. Navy tugboat Polaris set out on an expedition for the North Pole in 1872. After getting stuck among ice floes off the coast of Greenland for months, its multinational crew of 25 (plus eight women and children) were separated, with half trapped on the ship and the others trapped on an ice floe onto which they had temporarily decamped. Poet and novelist Heighton (The Shadow Boxer) brilliantly riffs off (and presents snippets of) the diary and memoir of real-life Lt. George Tyson, who was among the ice floe denizens; they survived seven more months before being rescued. When the captain dies under mysterious circumstances, Heighton focuses on Kruger, a German nonconformist who believes "the idiot willingness to take sides is what feeds the abattoir of history." Latent romantic feelings between Kruger and the group's married Esquimau translator, Tukulito, or "Hannah," further complicate an already desperate situation. Tyson, who eventually took command, skillfully manages to steer the diminishing floe to waters frequented by sealers and steamers. Heighton is terrific on the group's isolation and Tyson's often laconic responses to it. He's less good in dramatizing the postexpedition lives of Tukulito, Tyson and Kruger, but this novel's scale, its delight in detail and its psychological insight make it an exceptionally satisfying adventure. (Feb. 6) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
Reviews
Review Quotes
..." ambitious successor to [Heighton's] excellent debut novel"
..." ambitious successor to ÝHeighton's¨ excellent debut novel"
"Canadian novelist Heighton is an elegant writer, and the story he tells is gripping."
"Skillfully constructed, beautifully written, told with a detachment that will put the reader in mind of Graham Greene..."
"Skillfully constructed, beautifully written, told with a detachment that will put the reader in mind of Graham Greene..." The Washington Post "A novel of big ideas and beautiful language. [Afterlands] is a magnificent novel..." The New York Times Book Review "Canadian novelist Heighton is an elegant writer, and the story he tells is gripping." St. Louis Post-Dispatch "This novel's scale, its delight in detail and its psychological insight make it an exceptionally satisfying adventure." Publishers Weekly "... ambitious successor to [Heighton's] excellent debut novel" Kirkus Reviews
"This novel's scale, its delight in detail and its psychological insight make it an exceptionally satisfying adventure."
This item was reviewed in:
Kirkus Reviews,
Globe & Mail, September 2005
Publishers Weekly, November 2005
Booklist, January 2006
New York Times Book Review, February 2006
Globe & Mail, August 2006
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Summaries
Main Description
This gripping novel of Arctic survival, brilliantly written by an author who has been described as "a young Ondaatje," is based on one of the most remarkable events in polar exploration. In 1871, off the coast of Greenland, nineteen men, women, and children, voyaging on the Arctic explorer USS Polaris, were cast adrift on a large ice floe as their ship began to founder. Afterlands is the story of this small society of castaways--a white and a black American, five Germans, a Dane, a Swede, an Englishman, and two Inuit families--as they try to survive a six-month winter ordeal, struggling with the harsh elements and with one another, the group splintering into factions along ethnic and national lines. Steven Heighton provocatively fills in the blanks of the documented history of this event by focusing on the suspicions, the hunger-induced delusions, and the unrequited longings among three members of the group: Roland Kruger, an educated, witty, rebellious German seaman; Tukulito, or "Hannah," the party's Inuit interpreter; and George Tyson, the American ranking officer, who later wrote an account of the experience that solidified his reputation as a hero while casting Kruger as the villain. Throughout the novel, Heighton incorporates actual passages from Tyson's contentious account, then daringly imagines the aftermath of the ordeal, following Kruger, Tukulito, and Tyson as they attempt to move beyond their searing memories and resume their lives in the larger world. Combining the high drama of Arctic survival and the psychological intensity of modern theater, this beautifully written novel powerfully addresses themes of belonging, nationalism, and love in times of crisis. Steven Heighton's first novel, The Shadow Boxer, was chosen as a 2002 Book of the Year by Publishers Weekly and has been published in five countries. He is also the author of several books of poetry and short fiction. His work has received awards in Britain and Canada, has been translated into eight languages, and has been internationally anthologized. He lives in Kingston, Ontario.
Table of Contents
One Bury Me at Seap. 1
Two Versions of Loyaltyp. 43
Three Afterlandsp. 243
Last Versionsp. 399
Author""s Notep. 404
Table of Contents provided by Publisher. All Rights Reserved.

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