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Ordinary Wolves

4.11  ·  Rating details ·  1,463 ratings  ·  247 reviews
In the tradition of Jack London, Seth Kantner presents an Alaska far removed from majestic clichés of exotic travelogues and picture postcards. Kantner’s vivid and poetic prose lets readers experience Cutuk Hawcly’s life on the Alaskan plains through the character’s own words — feeling the pliers pinch of cold and hunkering in an igloo in blinding blizzards. Always in ...more
Paperback, 344 pages
Published May 17th 2005 by Milkweed Editions (first published April 18th 2004)
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Bill Tramel 324, including the end acknowledgements (First edition from 2004)

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Average rating 4.11  · 
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 ·  1,463 ratings  ·  247 reviews

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J.K. Grice
Oct 03, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites, fiction
ORDINARY WOLVES is simply one of the best books I have ever read. I need to read it again. Absolutely brilliant and highly recommended.
OK, hang on... stop reading this review. Go to your "to read" shelf. Add this book. To the top of the list. Do it now. Got it on there? OK..... now I can tell you about it. This book is going to stay with me for a long time. This kind of writing is really like a gift. When you come across a book like this you just never want to be done reading it because it's just such a sheer pleasure to read such fine writing. Seth Katner creates dialogues and descriptions that instantly place you in the ...more
Jan 29, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2018
This was a great read. Cutak and his family are living as natives in Alaska, but they are White, from Chicago, and therefore they face ridicule and serious discrimination. Their father, an artist, has them living off the land in a sod dwelling, and their mother has long fled back to the States. Their way of living is very outdated compared to the Indigenous children they encounter in town on infrequent visits, and they are mocked, bullied and worse because of this and their being White. It was ...more
Oct 30, 2007 rated it it was amazing
This book is a stunningly honest and unsentimental look at contemporary life in Alaska. The book touches on big issues (racism, loss of wilderness, alcoholism), but it is fundamentally a coming of age story (semi-autobiographical, I think) about a white boy whose father drops out of the mainstream to raise his three children in a sod igloo in a remote part of Alaska. It is beautifully written, and will stay with you for a long time.
Feb 01, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: animals, wolves
This was a hard book to read, not emotionally and not intellectually, but in sentence interpretation and meaning. I have never read a book written in this style and requiring such focus and attention. At times this felt like too much work, at others a delight and treasure. I loved reading about the lifestyle of the Eskimo hunter and their respect for the animals that they hunted. I was particularly intrigued by the description of the “dentist” hunter on page 307 whose hunting is only for the ...more
Molly Eness
Apr 07, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Recommended to Molly by: my parents
I think this is the most realistic, romantic and unromantic depiction of Alaska that I have ever read.
Ordinary Wolves is about a young blond boy,Cutuk who is growing up in the Alaskan wilderness. I found it a bit hard to get into the narrative but other then that this was a great read. Cutuk lives with his dad, brother and sister in an igloo in the forest, dirt floors,dirt walls and no other people except for the odd hunter passing by. In the beginning Cutuk is only five and everything has the sparkle a five year old puts on things, which I found so endearing ,it also makes it interesting to see ...more
May 05, 2014 rated it really liked it
This is a remarkable book. The Alaska Kantner explores is not the quirky Alaska of Northern Exposure fame. It is a book that almost reads as memoir, a picture of a place stripped clean of all the ideas outsiders have of the wilderness.
As I sloughed through the first section I thought I would barely survive. The descriptions of animal hunts, the lives of dogs and the extreme living conditions of the young narrator were almost too vivid. The next two sections, however, created a different
Laura Avellaneda-Cruz
Jan 13, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
"White people--everything talked to pieces until all the pieces had numbers. 'I get wolves,' Enuk would have said, 'back by mountains.' It would have been someone else's duty to fill in the story and any heroism."

"...Takunak, a speck in the wilderness, modern as microwaves, yet hissing with voices from a brand-new ten-thousand-year-old past: Kill every animal possible, every fur. Share. Avoid taboos. Don't get ahead. Never stand out. Live now. Takunak: generous and jealous, petty and cruel and
It’s a bad sign when I’ve finished a book and don’t remember who the author is. I finished it only yesterday because I thought I’d try something new and read it during my daily hour lunch breaks. In retrospect, that wasn’t the best idea. This is not the kind of story that you can dip into for short amounts of time. There are so many characters and different settings that it was very hard for me to remember who was who and which characters lived in what town. The writing is beautiful; but I ...more
Roman Dial
Dec 09, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Good books tell a truth to the reader that they hadn't known before, but perhaps suspected.

This book reveals Bush Alaska like none other I've read. And it does it in compelling prose, with images as achingly beautiful as an arctic winter noonday sun.

Unlike the amazing readers on Goodreads, I don't get to read many books for pleasure. So to read one twice, like this one, is rare for me.

In my opinion, the three best books I've read on Alaska are Coming into the Country, Into the Wild, and
Sandra Kinzer
Oct 30, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: alaskana
A beautiful story... messy and imperfect, but deeply beautiful. Lots of little nuggets of wisdom.
Aug 16, 2010 rated it it was amazing
I have read CALL OF THE WILD perhaps twenty times. It is one of my favorite books in the whole world. ORDINARY WOLVES has just entered that realm.

I loved this book!

A story about real life Alaska, conveying ice, caribou hair and wild meat, the dirt of a sod igloo floor littered with mouse turds, the smell and sound of sled dogs, and wolves in all their glory and tragedy. Told from the perspective of a little boy growing into a man in a vividly realized primitive environment, rife with the
May 28, 2008 rated it really liked it
I found myself sort of slogging through the purple passages, but as anthropology this book was fascinating. (a very cool clerk lady at cody's in berkeley recommended it to me because I bought Deep Survival-not normally my kind of book, but it's good to get out of your ruts sometimes.) It worked on me the same way the little house books did-as insight into a world beyond imagining, that some people just live. Squeamish about meat? read about living in the arctic! everytime you see any creature, ...more
Nov 15, 2008 rated it really liked it
Recommended to Liz by: Linda
After living in Alaska for 26 years, part of that time in Bush Alaska, I can say this is an excellent depiction of 'real' Alaska and the people and other animals who live there. I've never seen it done so well; this book made me homesick. It's a great reflection on what is real and what is important and what is not and how that all changes from person to person. I wish I could give six stars.
Carol Douglas
Aug 18, 2018 rated it really liked it
This is an amazing novel based on Seth Kantner's amazing life.

When Clayton is an infant, his father, Abe, chose to bring his family to a town in northern Alaska, in Inupiat territory. Many Inupiats, especially the kids, look down on whites who come there. Abe insists on living in a traditional dirt house and wearing traditional clothes though that's not what the Inupiats in their area do. Abe tries not to spend money, while many of the Inupiats are anxious to have money. All Clayton wants is to
Jun 22, 2019 rated it really liked it
I read this slowly, picking it up and putting it down, sometimes feeling a little impatient, but also appreciating the intentional pacing, so different than most of what I read and my busy New York life.

A vivid and beautiful portrait of living in the Arctic—I was especially struck by the empathic portrayal of Cutuk’s shock and disorientation upon moving to Anchorage.

Kantner never differentiates between the ills of modernity and the ills of colonization. In this novel, Cutuk’s father brings in
Marjorie Elwood
Dec 07, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction
This was a hard book for me to read, and I realized that I like my view of the Arctic to be romanticized, which this definitely wasn't (Kantner grew up in much the same circumstances as the protagonist). "In front the closest thing to my hometown squatted, beside gleaming white satellite dishes, in Pampers, on Pepsi, drunk, stoned, desperately addicted to dollars." The palpable anger expressed toward white folk, the complete hopelessness, the "reality of living where everybody tries to rape ...more
James Grinwis
Apr 30, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Loved it. No romanticizing the Arctic here; as real a glimpse as you can get. Sits in your mind like the worn nubs of an ancient and still utilized work table. Bare, clutter-less, and important reading.
Bonnie Brody
Mar 07, 2012 rated it it was amazing
I've thought about what differentiates an ordinary wolf from an extraordinary one and believe that the answer lies in Mr. Kantner's book. There are two ways of viewing pack animals - 1) as a group, acting and reacting in predictable group dynamics and 2) observing the actions and behaviors of one particular animal in a group setting or perhaps a wolf that has wandered away from his pack. This metaphor is used throughout the book to frame cultural beliefs and behaviors as opposed to the ...more
Jan 05, 2016 rated it really liked it
"The old Eskimo stories had held intrinsic truth, after all; they started in the middle of things and ended where the storyteller grew tired."

At its roots, Ordinary Wolves is a coming of age story; but, based as it is in the remote Alaskan tundra, it's probably not like any coming of age story you have read before. Beyond the traditional angst and displacement of the genre, parts of the story, particularly in the first section are about survival at its basic level. Cutuk, his two older siblings,
Mar 10, 2009 rated it liked it
Last year, in my quest to read 100 books, I wouldn't stop reading a book, no matter how bad it was. I chugged my way through some real train wrecks. So it's rather novel (ha) that I can give up on books halfway through this year.

That said, I feel a little bad casting this one aside, especially because it started so promisingly. It opens with a young white boy living with his father and older siblings in northern Alaska. Dad is an artist who's shunned the materialism of the lower 48. He values
Jules Frusher
Nov 07, 2012 rated it really liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jul 05, 2008 rated it really liked it
If you read this book, prepare for some language. It is an amazing book, partly because I lived in Alaska, and I felt and remembered things while reading this book that I haven't known howto describe to others. Even though I grew up in Fairbanks and not in a rural village, there is an Alaskan spirit that you feel no matter where you are in that huge, amazing place. I love it because I can smell the sealskin, I can feel freezing air in my lungs, the smell of Alaskan wilderness, and can remember ...more
May 14, 2008 rated it did not like it
Ick. It really and truly took me too long to read this book. I feel asleep. I had to sit next to my hubby while reading so he could check to make sure I hadn't passed out. Perhaps a memoir about Alaskan life I might have gotten into. For although Seth Kantner DID grow up in Alaska and was trying to write acurately about its land and its people, I feel like there was not enough going on in this book. Had it been a memoir however, perhaps with more details emotional appeal, I may have connected ...more
May 24, 2009 rated it it was amazing
An extraordinary book and pretty much excellent writing. At first I thought I would not be able to read it – I can not tolerate the back-to-the-land-how-perfect-it-is-out-ther-and-I-love-doing-without books – (including quite a bit of Annie Dillard, btw) but Kantner’s book has complexity that is rare and difficult. There is the romantic back to the land life, but shown realistically with all the not so romantic parts – even more than I remember from the cabin. The beauty of Alaska and the wisdom ...more
Jo Deurbrouck
Feb 13, 2012 rated it really liked it
Put a seriously talented writer together with a lifetime of unique, powerful, disturbing material and you get, well, 'Ordinary Wolves.' There were things I wanted to be different - I'dve loved to see the wolf vignettes resonate more with the main story line, for starters - but I loved every minute I spent with that book, flaws and all. I especially respected the understatement with which a lot of the most sensational material was presented. I would have been tempted toward drumrolls and crashing ...more
Aug 25, 2008 rated it it was amazing
I'd heard about this book for a long time and heard Kantner read from it in Anchorage, so I'm not sure why it took me so long to get to actually READING it. I'm blown away. The complicated, true-eyed, fierce representation of all the complications of living in Alaska, both beyond the road system and in the metropolitan Anchorage and Fairbanks, is phenomenal. Racism, hope, despair, the coming of age of a kid at once unique and recognizable -- this book is amazing. It is compelling and ...more
Jan 27, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Ordinary Wolves feels related to The Bone People- another book about a character hovering at the edge of a brutal, alcoholic tribal culture, trying to carve out a life and love despite alienation.
Cutuk is white, but wishes he was an Eskimo hunter, like his idol, Enuk Wolfglove. Cutuk lives with his father and siblings in the Alaskan wilderness, learning to hunt and trap and run dogs, but the Inupiaq tribal customs they emulate have given way to snowmobiles, indiscriminate hunting, and violence
Jun 14, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Ordinary Wolves won a Milkweed Prize (Milkweed is an independent publisher in Minnesota. I didn't love this book just because I was reading it while on vacation in Alaska, but because it was an interesting take on waste and materialism due to the cross-sections of characters and places. I felt the the story became a little repetitive in theme mid-way through the book, but perhaps this was intentional on the author's part since it was narrated by a teen with an identity crisis.
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