Book review: Raven Stole the Moon

Alaskan story delivers great writing and spiritual depth

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Garth Stein, best-selling author of “The Art of Racing in the Rain,”  explores the spiritual traditions of his Tlingit heritage in this story of grief, redemption, and mystery. Stein’s clean, crisp language, strong characterization, and mystical plot make Raven Stole the Moon both enjoyable and inspirational.

Story: When Jenna Rosen abandons her comfortable Seattle life to return to Wrangell, Alaska, it’s a wrenching return to her past. Long ago the home of her Native American grandmother, Wrangell is located near the Thunder Bay resort, where Jenna’s young son, Bobby, disappeared two years before. His body was never recovered, and Jenna is determined to lay to rest the aching mystery of his death. But the spectacular town provides little comfort beyond the steady and tender affections of Eddie, a local fisherman. And then whispers of ancient legends begin to suggest a frightening new possibility about Bobby’s fate. Soon, Jenna must sift through the beliefs of her ancestors, the Tlingit – who still tell of powerful, menacing forces at work in the Alaskan wilderness. (From goodreads.com)

Spiritual/metaphysical content: Medium. The story walks us through part of the Tlingit creation myth, including a mystical “between lives” state where a dead person’s soul can be trapped instead of entering the afterlife, and the kushtaka, physical beings who rule that state. Jenna must work with a shaman and spirit animals to release her son’s soul. Interesting exploration of native american spirituality, which parallels some Eastern beliefs. Treat the whole, not the parts. No such thing as good or evil. With practice, people can see beyond the physical world and glimpse the world of spirit: “Things exist and that is all. Nothing is surprising; nothing is startling. It is no more unusual for a bear to talk to a shaman than a twig to fall from a tree. . . . It is simply nature revealing a different side of itself to a shaman.”

Jenna grapples with the big issues that shape our personal philosophies, such as faith and belief: “Did Moses part the Red Sea? Did Christ heal the inform? Is there room for more than one religion, or is it all the same and people just interepret it differently? What makes is reasonable to believe that otter creatures steal souls? Is it the possibibility of salvation? If so, whose?

My take: Wonderful language, moving metaphors. Stein uses spare, direct prose to tell the story with great skill, occasionally using moving metaphors and parables to help the reader envision the incomprehensible. Some readers may find the story too abstract, since Jenna’s actions are driven by her need to find closure by choosing to believe that otter-like spirit creatures can steal a person’s soul.  The story blends the line between myth and reality. However, I felt that plot line added a fascinating spiritual depth to the story and I came to a better appreciation of Tlingit spiritual traditions. I was not necessarily persuaded to “willingly suspend disbelief,” but I found the story engaging and meaningful.

I was struck by the common threads that are woven through so many world myths and religions. as is typical of new age fiction. A few examples used in this book include the Great Flood; a River of Tears that separates the land of the living and the Land of Dead Souls; a mystical equivalent to Purgatory; a spirit guide to help the soul find the path to the other side, where family and friends await.

The story was a little less compelling than Stein’s later work, The Art of Racing in the Rain, but the clean, crisp language and strong characterization make Raven Stole the Moon both enjoyable and inspirational.

Details:
Raven Stole the Moon, by Garth Stein
Published by Harper Collins, 2010
Paperback, 445 pages
Buy at Amazon

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One thought on “Book review: Raven Stole the Moon

  1. Pingback: Book review: The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari « Fiction for a New Age

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