Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Latest review from LibraryThing

This reviewer gave the book a four-star review:
This book is an oral autobiography, so I suspended my usual demands on structure and approached the stories in this book as if I were a small child listening grownups talk about days gone by. And I was well rewarded.

The subject of this book is Holger “Jorgy” Jorgensen, whose heritage includes Russian, Inupiat, and Norwegian ancestors. His life began with a subsistence-level struggle for survival and grew to be part of the story of aviation in Alaska. In 1943…Jorgy started flying lessons and he never looked back. He flew as a charter pilot, an airline pilot, a freight pilot, and for the sheer love of flying itself. He criss-crossed Alaska, landing on icebergs, too-short runways, and runways ending beside mountains. He progressed to flying jets and piloted planes carrying passengers and freight around the world.

I can see how Jean Lester, who brought this book to life, must have sometimes wanted to beat her head against the wall. She describes Jorgy as a master of understatement, and editor Carla Helfferich describes him as “a laconic fellow with a good memory and no interest in tooting his own horn.” The stories are told in a dry, unemphatic way just as I might talk about a day at the office. However, Jorgy's day at the office included hauling the inanimate (dynamite and dump trucks) and animate (fish--dead, reindeer--live). And he did it in a place where you might have to drain the oil from an airplane's engine to keep it from freezing.

The problem with reviewing this book is that I want to tell you all the things Jorgy did, and there are just too many of them. And then there are the very understated descriptions of what it was like to grow up as a native and have to catch or harvest every bite of food that went into your mouth. Plus there is the story (also understated) of how Jorgy faced down the attitudes toward natives and did his part to end segregation in Alaska.

The natural audience for this book is pilots, but non-pilots will find a lot here, too. I'm not a pilot and I found much about this book to be fascinating. I only wish I could have really been listening while Jorgy told his stories.
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