Posted in Book Reviews

Pilgrim’s Wilderness: A True Story of Faith and Madness on the Alaska Frontier: Tom Kizzia

15926749How many of us would not be able to stop ourselves from gawking if we encountered a family with 15 children? How much more gawking would we do if this same family was clothed in rustic attire, toting musical instruments, & behaving as if they we transplanted from the 1800s?

In this non-fiction account, we encounter just such a family. Papa Pilgrim moved his large brood into the Alaska wilderness under the guise of escaping persecution for their beliefs & living off the land. At the time, few knew his past or his intentions. Too many folks allowed naiveté to cloud their view of the Pilgrim family. Eccentric & maybe a tad odd was the general consensus. However, Papa Pilgrim had a way of snowing people, including his own children.

Through the eyes of one who personally met Papa, readers follow the family’s journey. By manipulating the Bible, Papa Pilgrim controlled his wife, Country Rose, & their many children (who have Biblical names). We read of an encounter with Charles Manson, FBI ties, & conspiracy theories. When he decided to journey to the Alaskan wilderness, he goes head to head with the National Park Service & finally confronts people who don’t intend to bend to his many whims. How the story ends may or may not surprise you, but one thing is certain- you won’t soon forget this family.

Many people would not have fallen victim to Papa Pilgrim’s misrepresentation of the Bible. For certain, most Evangelical Christians would have caught on to his manipulation of Old Testament living. The very fact that he often read the Bible aloud & wouldn’t allow it to be read individually sends up giant warning flags. However, he was able to manipulate his wife & subsequently, his kids.

But, this wasn’t just a confused man. Papa was a narcissist who brutalized his family. Readers be warned: throughout the tale, there is mention of extreme violence against the children & incest. As a mother, I could not have endured what Country Rose did & then allowed the same to be done to my kids. Homicide would have been an option. But, she was oblivious to most of the atrocities & overlooked the rest.

While the entire book was hard for me to put down, I was disappointed in the amount of unnecessary historical data included. In order to tell the Pilgrim’s story, I don’t think we needed to know the entire founding history of the Alaskan town that they settled in. I understand why the violence was included as it is very telling into this man’s character. Good writing skills & a good story go hand in hand. But, in this case, I’m not sure how much was the author’s talent & how much was an outlandish tale that had to be written.

If you can overlook the lengthy stretches of historical notes & concentrate on the meat of the story, then non-fiction fans will enjoy this one. If you are sensitive to the type of violence I mentioned, skip this one. All told, because I simply had to finish it, I give it 4 stars.

I received a copy in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are mine.

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