Review by Olivia Belluck
A novel that explores the loss and transformation of our human connection with the natural world.
Krivak creates a story where knowledge is the difference between life and death, and yet, he keeps the innerworkings of the world he has created a mystery to his readers. Without even knowing her name, the reader becomes invested in the life of a little girl learning to thrive in an unrecognizable landscape under the tutelage of her nameless father. Her father teaches her to appreciate nature through holistic means of interacting with it. Coupled with her lessons in hunting, sewing, and carpentry is her education in poetry and literature from an era now lost. There are no solar panels or generators, no guns, no grocery stores, no relics of the society that has severed the connection between humanity and nature, humans and nonhuman animals. This girl is the first in a new generation of humanity or perhaps – as Krivak notes with his inclusion of indigenous folklore and animal protagonists – she is the beginning of a resurgence for a way of life once thought lost. These humans’ lives in their mountainous home is simple until they are forced to traverse the earth in search of salt. It is the little unnamed girl’s first time leaving her home and during this journey into the great world, her father is killed in an unfortunate and preventable accident. Not only must she now traverse alone a land that is still very much foreign to her, she must also reach home to bury her father next to her deceased mother. Along the way, she receives the help of several animals – including the titular Bear – with whom she is able to understand and speak, purely because she listens. This is the heart of Krivak’s thesis, that we as humans have lost the ability to listen to nature, to treat it as its own living entity separate from ourselves. The Bear addresses themes of love and loss, remembrance and family, as well as the posthumanistic concept of maintaining one’s connection with the natural, nonhuman world. As the father notes, humans have worked tirelessly to build a wall between themselves and the rest of the world. But this little girl, whose heart is open to nature and to the earth, is the first in a new age of humans – assuming there are any left – who will tear down this wall. Krivak’s lack of quotations marks and apostrophes throughout the text allow dialogue, thought, and narration to flow together seamlessly, reflecting his hope that humanity will stop seeing their relationship to nature as a dichotomy and begin to view themselves as an extension of the natural world. Fans of posthuman philosophy and climate fiction will be enchanted by this charming tale of survival and coexistence.
Published: February 11th, 2020
Publisher: Bellevue Literary Press
Genre: Climate Fiction, Adult Fictional, Science Fiction, Fantasy, Apocalyptic, Post-Apocalyptic, Magical Realism
Audience: Young Adults, Adults