And She Was: A Novel

And She Was: A Novel

by Cindy Dyson


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There are places that can remake you — slippery, gray places. Places that hold their secrets in the fog and whisper them on the wind. And when Brandy, a floundering, trashy, Latin-spewing cocktail waitress, finds herself drifting across the line between the ordinary world and just such a place, something fearsome and beautiful happens. Something changes.

Sweeping across centuries and into the Aleutian Islands of Alaska's Bering Sea, And She Was begins with a decision and a broken taboo when three starving Aleut mothers decide to take their fate into their own hands and survive the devastation of Russian conquest. The shadow of their heroic and tragic decision reaches forward across the generations, and as cultural upheavals undulate through the Aleutian chain, their descendants are willing to risk even more as the gold rush and World War II internment threatens their people's survival.

Two hundred and fifty years later, by the time Brandy steps ashore in the 1980s, Unalaska Island has absorbed their dark secret, a secret that is both salvation and shame. Brandy doesn't know why she's there. She's too old and too smart to be drifting so close to the edge of the known world. As usual, she is following a man with curly hair and no long-range goals. She takes a job slinging drinks at the notoriously dangerous Elbow Room, studies Aleutian history, learns to ride a motorcycle, and with a practiced psyche avoids thinking about her withered past and her abandoned future. She is fighting her own battle for survival, a battle she does not even recognize.

But the island's secret follows her — in the odd bathroom graffiti, the old Aleut women who hike in the night, the unexplained deaths clouding the island, and the enigmatic smile of a young Aleut woman sketched centuries before. Brandy begins to pay attention. She begins to long for her life to change.

In a tense interplay between past and present, And She Was explores Aleut history, taboos, mummies, conquest, survival, and the seamy side of the 1980s in a fishing boomtown at the edge of the world. It leaps across time and culture to a lost woman, who more than anything needs to understand the gray shades between heroism and evil, between freedom and bondage, between this place and the rest of her life.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780060597719
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 01/02/2007
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 304
Product dimensions: 5.30(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.80(d)

About the Author

The author of eight books for young adults, Cindy Dyson grew up in Alaska. Her work has appeared in National Geographic, Backpacker, First for Women, Women's World, and other publications. She now lives near Glacier Park, Montana.

Read an Excerpt

And She Was

Chapter One

Spring 1741; Spring 1961

World was Moving

I felt the edge slip sometimes. When I was there. Nothing obvious, just the disquieting feeling that something had come loose, something had shifted and reassembled itself beneath me. There are places like that. Places that fall apart and re-form right under your boots. Places that can remake you. I think now it's because these places themselves are still undone, still being formed.

The Pacific plate began its slow plunge under the American plate, revealing the red meat of the earth. Along the wound, volcanoes rose like cysts, spewing molten rock into cool water, creating the Aleutian chain seventy million years ago. Strewn like stepping-stones, the 1,400-mile island chain arched from the Alaskan Peninsula to the doorstep of Siberia. And then the winds began, so persistent, so fierce, the islands became the Birthplace of the Wind and the Cradle of Storms. The winds erode from above; the Bering Sea and the Pacific Ocean wear from below.

These islands are at once being born and dying. The battle of fire and water is old and living. Both will keep killing. And keep giving life. This is the edge, the slip. They are, like us, unfinished. People do not possess such places but are possessed by them. I felt it when I was there. I imagine the Aleut people have been feeling it for thousands of years.

And I believe some of them still remember the power that lurks in this land. When I first heard their story, I felt as if the wind were lifting a veil, revealing something I already knew. And some part of my brain stepped back from the edge of extinction and smiled.Their story takes a shape our instincts recognize. The whisper under a shout. And in my mind, I'm standing again on a cliff overlooking that siren ocean, feeling the wind press into my lungs. And I, too, remember.

It blows over the beach below on this sunny, cold afternoon long ago and into the face of Tekuxia as she stands among the rocks and sand. She and thirty others from her village have gathered here at Tumgax's request. Another vision has come to him.

"Something is coming," Tumgax says, leaning forward to peer into each person's eyes. "The wind will bring newcomers from beyond the sea, and everything will change."

Tekuxia shudders when the shaman tells of these visions. Her children whimper with nightmares after such talk. But she listens well.

And she believes.

"Last night I journeyed again to where the spirits talk." Tumgax turns his face to search past the breakers, past the towering rocks guarding the village cove, toward the open ocean. "These newcomers will bring new ways. The People will take up their ideas, their clothing, their lives. Until no one remembers who we were."

Tekuxia shivers under the cold sun. The villagers know there exist people much different from themselves. Twice in her thirty-seven years, parts of a whale-size boat have come to rest on the beach. The bits of iron, holding water-soaked wood together, were quickly stripped and hammered into knives and awls, their blades wearing much better than stone. And she has heard the tales of a people to the west, beyond the last island. But these tales have grown so old that they now sound like myths serving only to warn the young men not to venture too far from home.

"When they come," Tumgax continues, "we will welcome them. We will embrace their God and their toion and everything will change."

As the gathering breaks, Tekuxia scoops up her little girl and holds her close, feeling the dark shiny hair under her cheek. Tekuxia does not fear for herself; she feels certain her generation will pass before the change. But Aya. Aya will see it all. She sets the girl down and kneels in front of her.

"Aya, you must remember what I am going to tell you. Say you will."

The girl looks up, surprised by her mother's urgent tone.

"Yes, Mama."

"These hands," Tekuxia says, turning the sand-caked palms upward in her own, "in them you hold your fate, and in no one's hands but your own does your future rest. Do you understand?"

Aya understands only the strange desperation in her mother's voice, only the first notions of fear. But she nods.

"Yes, Mama."

In the years to come, Aya will listen to her mother repeat this strange ceremony, the turning up of her palms and the heavy words. But she will not come to understand them until her mother is long gone and the change has blown down upon her like a williwaw.

Hurl yourself forward 220 years and fly inland to another girl learning at her mother's side. My mother's legacy of wisdom was no less insistent, no less burdened by a maternal instinct to warn her daughter of what she fears.

"Brandy," she says, buttoning up her blouse, but not too far, as I gaze into the depths of her cleavage, "you always want to take up the hem some on a store-bought dress. At least two inches. Got that?"

"Yes, Mama."

Two inches. Two inches.

The water bed sloshes with the rhythm as I repeat the words in a whisper, scared to forget anything even then.

"And," my mother says, bending forward at the waist to invert her blond curls and burden them with spray, "this Aqua Net is the best shit on the market."

Aqua Net. Aqua Net.

She takes my face between her two hands as she passes by me for the door. "Such a pretty girl," she says, and I squint to see past the barriers of black-clumped lashes. I squint to see into the wreck of my mother's eyes. She throws her customary parting over her shoulder as she leaves. "Be bad enough so they call you good." The smell of perfume and hair spray and a protean dampness lingers in the room.

And She Was. Copyright (c) by Cindy Dyson . Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

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And She Was 3.9 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 14 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is not for the shy. It is a graphic book with 'dirty' words and sex but if you don't mind that it was pretty good. The main charactor thinks a LOT of herself. And the references to Native Americans leave me a bit unsure of historical accuracy. Other than that I couldn't put it down. It jumps back and forth in time though, so get used to it.
anitabowser on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I loved this book. The author handled the shifting perspectives and time periods with ease and created an authentic female protagonist for readers to care about. There was much detail about the Aleutian Islands and people. Let's hope we see more from Ms. Dyson soon.
mmillet on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I don't even know where to start with this book... It's about a thirty-something woman, Brandy, in the 80s who follows her newest boyfriend to Dutch Harbor, AK (think site of 'Deadliest Catch'). A professional cocktail waitress, she's naturally blond, from a broken home and tries to never think about the future. But then she starts learning more about the history of the Aleut people, especially the women, and begins to discover many dark and compelling truths. Brandy also learns more about herself -- but she goes kicking and screaming the entire way. I have mixed feelings about this powerful story. First, it's pretty crass in parts due to the nature of her lifestyle and the people she hangs with -- but you also learn so much about the Alaskan people/culture. It's so layered like Brandy herself. Beautiful writing but not for everyone.
bkswrites on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Another happy find on the remainder rack. My only disappointment was the couple of times Dyson couldn't seem to make a transition to a new period within the story and inserted instructional paragraphs in italics. But her feeling for the Aleut women and her ability to draw us along with Brandy as she learns who she is capable of being was masterful. Brandy was not a character with whom I could identify at all, at first, I thought. (I don't believe I've ever willingly listened to The Talking Heads.) But I came to love her and root for her and thank her for teaching me about another side of a woman's life. To me that's what books are really for, letting me become, in part, someone wholly different from myself, and yet with whom I share so much.
dorenemlorenz on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A great first effort.
melydia on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Brandy is a young woman who drifts through life, moving from man to man, following each wherever he takes her. At the start of this book she has just followed the latest all the way to Dutch, a tiny town on the Aleutian Island of Unalaska. Intertwined with her story is that of several generations of Aleutian women, each sacrificing so that her people may live. The first half of the book is kind of slow, paddling around in shallow waters to thoroughly set the scene. After that it picks up, both the story and its characters gaining depth as Brandy begins her slow transformation at the edge of the world.This is an atmospheric book, in that it involves highly detailed characters with highly detailed backstories living in a highly detailed world, but not a whole lot actually happens. It is not the kind of book that keeps you up at night, dying to read just one more chapter. This is not necessarily a bad thing - this is a good book to curl up with on a quiet afternoon and just let yourself travel to the Aleutians of twenty years ago.
moecatj on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
One of the most intriguing books I have read in a while. It's not quite a mystery, more a story of self-discovery. Cindy Dyson is an amazing talent and anyone who has not read this book is missing out on a fabulous reading experience.
LynnB on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This the story of a young woman who moves to Alaska. It's also the story of the Aleut people back several generations and the role of women in that society. It examines the importance of community and the links between individual and collective history.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Excellent I want more!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Well written--ties the past and present together in a setting that is intriguing and interesting. An enjoyable read!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I just finished reading "And She Was". I couldn't put it down. So many stories in one tale. It's speaks of both oppression and freedom. It illustrates the paradox of America. Replace the Aluets with the Cherokees and you have another story, but it's still the same. And what fantastic words and visions Dyson creates.
Guest More than 1 year ago
The book starts a little slow and took me a little while to get into. It goes back a forth between the past of the Aleut women and the present life of Brandy 'not Aleutian'. I was thinking it seemed like two different stories in one book, but then the author weaves them together rather well. I got it as a bargain book so it was worth the 5 dollars.
harstan More than 1 year ago
In 1986, now thirty-one, Brandy has always been a drifter following whatever man she is with at that moment, but never becoming emotionally entangled with anyone. Perhaps it is in her DNA as ¿the daughter of a bum and a slut¿.------ Currently she is staying with kind fisherman Thad on isolated Aleutian island Dutch Harbor, Alaska. She obtains work as a bar girl at the Elbow Room bar. The place is known locally as much for its nightly fights that include some women as much as for the number of drunks. Brandy, in between sex, alcohol, and drugs is fascinated by enigmatic writing on the bathroom walls, which leads her to learn more about the history of the area. She soon learns how the Russians conducted ethnic cleansing in the early eighteenth century followed in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries by the Good Samaritans who in bringing civilization further destroyed a culture that is kept somewhat alive by the ¿secret powers¿ of two drunken regulars, Aleuts Bessie and Little Liz.----- AND SHE WAS is a haunting deep tale that grips readers on two levels. First the personal story of Brandy, whom the audience hopes will find a better way second and perhaps even more memorable is the history of the Aleuts whose way of life is brutally devastated by initially the Russians and ultimately destroyed even more so by the ¿kindness¿ of do-gooders like nineteenth century missionaries and twentieth social workers. The story line moves deftly back and forth between 1986 and the past as Cindy Dyson provides a powerful indictment of cultural intrusion disguised as civilization.----- Harriet Klausner