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Pilgrim's Wilderness: A True Story of Faith and Madness on the Alaska Frontier    by Tom Kizzia order for
Pilgrim's Wilderness
by Tom Kizzia
Order:  USA  Can
Crown, 2013 (2013)
Hardcover, CD, e-Book
* * *   Reviewed by Mary Ann Smyth

Pilgrims Wilderness - A True Story of Faith and Madness on the Alaska Frontier by Tom Kizzia reads as a fiction publication rather than non-fiction.

In the winter of 2002, Papa Pilgrim arrived in the Alaska frontier outpost of McCarthy with his wife and fifteen children! With little to sustain himself, let alone his large brood. He managed to charm his new neighbors while living life with the barest of necessities or shelter. Papa was a storyteller of the first degree and beguiled those around him. The hardy residents were very pleased when the oldest children pulled out various musical instruments which they played quite professionally, while singing along. But they proved, for the most part, to be illiterate! Country Rose, their mother, was homeschooling them.

One baby a year. Papa was heading for at least 21! Their last home was in New Mexico. Why Papa decided Alaska was the place for them is unknown. Especially Alaska in January. He had the children under strict control, which baffles me. Seems like there should have been, at least, one of the boys (who were in their late teens and early twenties) to rebel. Elishaba, the eldest child and daughter, proved to be the one to challenge her father. Not enough, to my way of thinking. I'm sure the brutal beatings she endured kept her under Papa's thumb.

Of course, their real name was not Pilgrim. That was just the name that Papa had appropriated when they left New Mexico. Probing their background proved very interesting. I could go on and on about the idiosyncrasies of the whole family, but it's best to read of them yourself.

It would be very interesting to know where each of these poor downtrodden and abused children is today. And if they have survived their father's autocratic and cruel upbringing. Papa could find and misuse quotes from the Bible to keep these kids in line. He counted on his own brand of faith to reign over his brood.

They lived on the border of a national park. Papa used park land as his own, much to the consternation of the park rangers. An ongoing battle with the park service occupied much of the rangers' time and budget. Papa Pilgrim was a most cantankerous man.

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