A Distant Enemy
By Deb Vanasse
Published by Lodestar Books
Copyright © 1997
“A Distant Enemy” is the story of Joseph, a 14 year old Yup’ik Eskimo from Southwestern Alaska. When we first meet Joseph he is fishing with his grandfather even though Alaska fish and game has closed down the Salmon season early to preserve the stock. Joseph is very angry, because for longer than he has been alive the Yup’ik way of life has been encroached upon by the kass’aq, white people, and now they are putting a limit on how long his people can fish for salmon from the river. To Joseph the kass’aq is the enemy.
Joseph is so angry that when the fish & game officers come to their village he slashes the tires of their airplane. Joseph believes that no one has seen him, but he has been seen by the new kass’aq school teacher. This new teacher does not turn Joseph in and tries to help him. While Joseph has no choice but to accept the teachers offer for help he is still ungrateful; he views it as more kass’aq meddling.
Much of Joseph’s anger stems from the fact that he is half white, and his white father abandoned his family. Joseph’s uncontrolled anger continues to get the best of him and he ends up hurting and disappointing those who care for him. In the end his anger hurts him the most as it nearly costs him his own life.
Deb Vanasse has created for us very real character that likely embodies the feelings and struggles of many native peoples of Alaska and other parts of this country. Thankfully however, this book is not about injustice of the white man. It is instead about being non-judgmental and about how anger can eat you up inside until you ruin yourself (among other things). Though I was left with a few questions at the end, finding these lessons in such an entertaining story set in such a rich cultural and geographic backdrop was a pleasure.