The year is 1898, and gold lines the earth in Alaska. Neil Perry Gordon takes the reader on a journey that probes into the idea of ‘a life worth living,’ not a life pinned on heavenly aspirations. Using one’s mind and body to the extent it can be used – one might say, a life of adventure and exploration. Two young men, Liam and Samuel, hear a graduation speech from the legendary and historical Jack London, and promptly Liam begins the push to go to Alaska in search of ‘a life worthy to be remembered.’
Hope City is a throwback to the times where North America was a wild place with gold to be found, lessons on surviving, a time where ‘hope’ meant something beyond what people knew. Many of the settlers and frontiersmen had little to no knowledge of what was really out there in the wilds, and the spirit of adventure was alive within them. The novel feels like a nostalgic look at these times – both charming and honest in the narrative and character of his protagonists. They’re men who understand that courage is in more than the mind; courage is in action and the opportunities people seize during their lifetime.
Gordon takes the reader back in time in more ways than one; the author writes honestly about the cultural perceptions of Jewish individuals, even as far back as 1898 – so Samuel takes a name given to him by his father, a goyim name: Percy Hope.
With this, the story takes off to a place most modern people have little knowledge of, though their feet still stand on the same ground. The country has changed drastically for modern people, and this wild country is one of adventure and tenacity. However, the cultural complexity is another thing that Gordon explores – a clinging Norse religion of the north, Asatru, the conflict of Catholicism and Judaism, and the relations between settlers and Native folk of the region.
Gordon captures the spirit of old frontier literature, captures Jack London’s spirit, in Hope City. It is a testament to likely a lifetime of interest and research into not just the physicality required by a life during these times, but also the precarious dancing between cultural beliefs and relations. It is a piece of literature out of times past, well-written and insightful in a way that I was not entirely expecting.
Hope City is simply a sincere, incredible work right out of the past. I don’t want to give away much of the plot – but believe me when I say that the author keeps the pages turning. Gordon writes a cast of characters that both surprise and intrigue, a battle between our perceptions of good and perceptions of evil, acts of betrayal and acts of courage.
There’s so much meat to this particular novel that I can see myself reading it more than once. It’s a true adventure tale that captures the spirit of the past. It is a beautiful testament to times long forgotten, risks and conflicts that could have only existed before the 1900’s. It was a turbulent and transitional time for many, and for one man – Samuel Rothman, aka Percy Hope – it was a single season in a lifetime full of more adventure than anyone may have expected.