Winter Brothers: A Season at the Edge of America

by Ivan Doig

Hardcover, 1980

Call number




Harcourt Brace Jovanovich (1980), Edition: 1st, 246 pages


Biography & Autobiography. History. Travel. Nonfiction. HTML:A blend of modern-day travel memoir and nineteenth-century history, "infused with the fresh air and spirit of the Northwest" (The New York Times Book Review). The author of the acclaimed This House of Sky and Mountain Time provides a magnificent evocation of the Pacific Northwest through his exploration of the unpublished diaries of James Gilchrist Swan, an early settler of the region who was drawn there from Boston in the 1850s. Winter Brothers fuses excerpts from these diaries with author Ivan Doig's own journal entries, as he travels in Swan's footsteps one winter along the once-wild coastline of Puget Sound and the Strait of Juan de Fuca. What emerges is a remarkable interaction of two minds, a dialogue across time that links the present with the reality of the American frontier. "Absorbing . . . A double portrait of striking clarity, yet with wonderfully subtle hues." ??San Francisco Chronicle… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member Diggerfish
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
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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.
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LibraryThing member kcshankd
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
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done, I enjoyed this immensely.
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LibraryThing member Mechan1c
One of the best books I've read.
LibraryThing member m.belljackson
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
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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?
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0151971862 / 9780151971862

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