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Winter Brothers : A Season at the Edge of America (1980)

by Ivan Doig

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2505106,933 (4.02)3
The author of This House of Sky provides a magnificent evocation of the Pacific Northwest through the diaries of James Gilchrist Swan, a settler of the region. Doig fuses parts of the Swan diaries with his own journal.

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Showing 5 of 5
Winter Brothers opens with the first of many compelling Haida animal prints.

Ivan Doig continues with many detailed descriptions of artworks which would deeply benefit from
photographs in future editions.

Mr. Doig weaves in his own research and path to retrace James Gilchrist Swan steadily composing
beautifully descriptive narrative diaries of his wildly fluctuating life and travels.

For January 1st, 1860:

"May it be not only the commencement of the week, the month
and the year, but the commencement of a new Era in my life,
and may good resolve result in good action."

Both men are deeply enthralled with all The West has to offer, from mountains, waters, and weather
to the glorious art - encompassing ivory canes on into the tremendous carved columns -
and the highly individual characters drawn to the part of the earth that they loved.

Little attention is given to the sometimes cruel and frightening Makah superstitions,
as well to Swan shooting his cat and collecting so many animals and "Indian skulls" for SMITHSONIAN "specimens."

While the Queen Charlotte conclusion is great for the Winter Brothers, the middle is often prolonged, repetitive
and with confusing date transitions.

We sure wish there was a brief sequel that followed the fate of the amazing Johnny Kit Elswa,
as well as the daughter that Swan deserted, then connected with - did she inherit his land? ( )
  m.belljackson | Dec 12, 2023 |
One of the best books I've read. ( )
  Mechan1c | Mar 19, 2022 |
Browsed upon at The Port Bookstore in Port Angeles. Ivan Doig spends a winter in the footsteps of a 19th Century Washington Olympic Peninsula pioneer. James Swan was a customs inspector, Tribal agent, and all-round roustabout for hire as civilization broke upon the edge of the country.

Very well done, I enjoyed this immensely. ( )
  kcshankd | Oct 18, 2020 |
I've read this book at least five times and will probably read it at least five more. Doig's approach is to try to get inside the head of a man who died over a century ago through the exploration not only of forty years of diaries, but by walking the ground the enigmatic James G. Swan trod. Doig's unique word craft and almost haunting style is perfect for delving into the soul of this mysterious man who left his family and clerk's post on the Boston docks and, for reasons he never shared, wandered west to become a teacher, Customs official, judge, prolific collector of Native art for the Smithsonian, and who today remains one of the best sources for ethnological studies of Northwest tribes--all with no visible qualifications to do so. ( )
2 vote Diggerfish | Mar 27, 2015 |
Winter Brothers by Ivan Doig
Subtitled “A Season at the Edge of America” this unusual book is a double-diary. One hundred years after James Gilchrist Swan, adventurer and collector, made his way among the Makah Indians and wildlife of the northwest, Ivan Doig spent a year following in his footsteps. We find their interwoven records, one hundred and fortyfour pages: Swan in italics, Doig in roman type in this beautifully designed book.
It is truly a pleasure to “tag along.” People, animals, weather, wildlife, all here so we too can be explorers. ( )
1 vote Esta1923 | Nov 22, 2008 |
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His name was James Gilchrist Swan, and I have felt my pull toward him ever since some forgotten frontier pursuit or another landed me into the coastal region of history where he presides, meticulous as a usurer's clerk, diarying and diarying that life of his, four generations and seemingly as many light-years away from my own.
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The author of This House of Sky provides a magnificent evocation of the Pacific Northwest through the diaries of James Gilchrist Swan, a settler of the region. Doig fuses parts of the Swan diaries with his own journal.

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