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About The daily Astorian. (Astoria, Or.) 1961-current | View Entire Issue (July 6, 2019)
THE ASTORIAN • SATURDAY, JULY 6, 2019
Detailing the immigrant experience
on the Columbia River
Seaside native Karl Marlantes discusses new novel ‘Deep River’
By JORDAN BARBOSA
For The Astorian
easide native Karl Marlantes is the
author of the bestselling books “Mat-
terhorn: A Novel of the Vietnam War”
and “What It Is Like To Go To War.” These
books come from his intensely personal
experiences from his time serving in the
Marines during Vietnam.
His most recent novel, “Deep River,”
continues mining his personal history, but
in a different way. It’s a family epic cen-
tering on Scandinavian immigrants in the
late 19th century as they struggle to adapt
to life in a small logging town just off the
banks of the Columbia River.
We spoke to Marlantes, who now lives
near Duvall, Wash., about growing up
on the North Coast, what inspired him
to write about the immigrant experience
and growing up in a multilingual home.
Jordan Barbosa: After writing about
your experiences in Vietnam, what
inspired you to write about the area
where you grew up?
Karl Marlantes: First of all, I just
love the area I grew up in and there’s
a sense that if you love something you
want to share it.
I grew up in Seaside when it was a
logging town. It’s a very different sort
of culture today. And Astoria was basi-
cally logging and ﬁ shing and plywood
mills. That’s the era I grew up in and I
loved my childhood.
I think I also wanted to talk about
the darker side about growing up in
that culture. I mean ﬁ shing and log-
ging today are still two of the most
dangerous professions in the world.
Five of my friends lost their
fathers in the woods to logging acci-
dents. And my step-grandfather got
his legs crushed in a log boom acci-
dent, had one amputated. My Greek
grandfather lost an eye in a saw-
mill accident. They were dangerous
So I wanted to try to express the
juxtaposition of what a wonder-
ful time it was: there were dances,
there was community. Those log-
gers made their own violins and
they played them with their friends.
The men and women mended nets
What I feel is just the irony of
the heroism of these people.
Think about that physical kind
of work. They worked from dawn
to dark six days a week — and
still went dancing.
The irony is there’s no more
old-growth forests. We cut it all
down. And the same goes for the
damn building, heroic effort.
Seventy-two, 73 guys died
building Grand Coulee Dam.
So we could ﬂ ip a switch and
get electricity. But there is no
Columbia River anymore, it’s a series of
dams and lakes.
And then I have my own background. My mother’s
ﬁ rst language was Finnish and my step-grandfather
was a Swedish speaker but born in Finland. My biolog-
ical grandfather, who inspired one of the characters in
the novel, was a Norwegian speaker. My brother and I
called it cultural-linguistic schizophrenia because there
were ﬁ ve languages in the house.
JB: That’s a lot.
KM: We ended up speaking English because it was
just too crazy, you know. I wish I had learned a cou-
ple of those languages. I tell people I can name all the
cookies in any language.
JB: You talk a lot about the immigrant’s experience
in your book. Can you talk more about that?
KM: Absolutely. There’s two things. First of all, I
wanted to show the immigrant’s experience from the
immigrant’s side and just the difﬁ culties of language.
In the novel, whenever they’re speaking from outside
their own culture, they have a difﬁ cult time speak-
ing. They have like three words like “Good worker”
or something and it’s pretty tough and they don’t catch
what people are saying. Having a novel gets you into
the skin of people like that. And another thing is that
I’ve also thought about is that it’s human nature — not
America, it’s humans. We are so capable of demonizing
anybody other than ourselves.
And my grandmother was a communist, right? She
baked cookies and danced on Friday night. I mean, she
was a grandmother! Her political view was that capi-
talism was bad and she had very sound reasons for it.
She grew up under the Russian czar, an extreme form
of capitalism that hadn’t been mitigated by laws. I
could understand that. But she’s not a demon, she’s my
grandmother! So, my character, Aino, she’s a radical
communist, but she’s just a girl. We have to get over
demonizing because we won’t get anywhere with that.
JB: You could say division kind of deﬁ nes America.
KM: It is human nature. Aksel is the character that
“Deep River” by Karl Marlantes. Atlantic
Monthly Press – 717 pp – $30.
IF YOU GO
What: An evening with author Karl Marlantes
When: 7 p.m. Thursday, July 11
Where: Cannon Beach Book Book Company, 130 N.
Details: Marlantes will discuss his new novel “Deep
keeps telling Aino: “Aino, it doesn’t make any dif-
ference whether we’re communists or capitalists, it’s
whether we have good people or bad people running
JB: What was it like growing up in Seaside? I hear
your dad was the principal.
KM: He was, much to my chagrin. When I was a lit-
tle kid he sold insurance and worked at the bumper cars,
which I thought was marvelous. It was amazing for a
seven-year-old’s view of their dad.
He went to school on the GI bill, got his degree to
teach, was a high school teacher, then became princi-
pal just as I was about to go to high school — which
was just horrible.
My mother started the Lutheran church in Sea-
side because there wasn’t one. She was very sort of
“active.” She left school when she was 14 and she was
the brains of the family, everybody knew that, even
though my dad got the education. And I had a paper
route with the Astoria Budget when I was in second
grade. 19 customers.
JB: Do you have any plans after “Deep River”?
KM: I do have plans. The next novel is actually
going to explore what I call “American naivete.” That’s
what I’m sort of thinking about right now. I’m going to
set it in the American embassy in Helsinki. I might take
one of the characters from “Deep River.”
Marlantes will speak at the Cannon Beach Book
Company at 7 p.m. Thursday, July 11, and at Beach
Books in Seaside on Tuesday, Aug. 27, at 7 p.m.