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Critical Praise

“In this gripping, meditative second novel, Brian Payton explores this nearly forgotten chapter of American history.”

—New York Times Book Review

“Powerful…thoughtfully conceived…The pages of this book practically turn themselves…By turns greathearted and grim, THE WIND IS NOT A RIVER probes the reasons for, and the consequences of, the human practice of war...this story may haunt you long after you’ve put the book down.”

—Seattle Times

“Payton crafts a beautiful, heart-inspiring and heart-wrenching tale of love, forgiveness, loneliness, the strength of the human spirit and the power of faith in God and family. These are not the stories we heard from our parents, but they are believable nonetheless.”

—Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

“What a great-hearted, beautifully written, and utterly riveting novel. THE WIND IS NOT A RIVER has a power that brings to mind the old Greek stories of war, love, and journey.”

—Ron Rash, bestselling author of SERENA and NOTHING GOLD CAN STAY

“Beautifully written, lyrical and elegiac, THE WIND IS NOT A RIVER is a novel you must read, because the battle for the Aleutians too often has been erased or forgotten and because John Easley’s struggle to survive and his wife Helen’s struggle to find him form the most triumphant and heartbreaking love story I’ve read in years.”


“Not since COLD MOUNTAIN have I read such a brilliantly sustained metaphor for our collective guilt and grief, nor such a stirring testament to the redemptive power of love. We need this novel now.”

—Wayne Grady, author of EMANCIPATION DAY

“This moving and powerfully written novel explores themes of war, life and death, morality, and love in a unique World War II battleground that very few people outside Alaska know about or remember. VERDICT: Payton, known for his nonfiction works SHADOW OF THE BEAR and THE ICE PASSAGE, has written a suspenseful, beautifully researched title that readers will want to devour in one sitting. As a nearly lifelong inhabitant of Alaska and having spent three years on Adak in the Aleutians, this reviewer was particularly gratified by the accuracy of the author’s portrayal of the land and people of the “birthplace of the winds.” Bravo!”

—Library Journal, starred review

“A haunting love story wrapped in an engaging and unsettling history lesson… Readers will be propelled by a desire to find out what happens to John and Helen. Be prepared for an unexpected twist. Along the way, readers will learn not just about a fascinating and largely forgotten slice of American history, but what it felt like to live through it.”

—USA Today

“Part adventure tale, part love story, this beautifully written novel offers a moving portrait of a couple whose lives are forever changed by the only battle of WWII to take place on American soil. Following the death of his brother in the war in Europe, grieving journalist John Easley feels an obligation to report on the war and talks himself onto a plane doing a bombing run over the Aleutian Islands. When the plane is shot down on Attu, he finds himself in a fight for his life as he battles hunger and the cold while hiding out from Japanese soldiers, who have shipped the natives off to internment camps and taken over the island. Meanwhile, back in Seattle, John’s wife, Helen, lies about her lack of experience and joins a USO troupe set to entertain American soldiers in the Aleutians, determining that she will be more likely to locate John and bring him home if she is closer to the battle action. Payton, in the loveliest of prose, illuminates a little-known aspect of WWII while portraying a devoted couple who bravely face down the isolation, pain, and sacrifice of wartime.”


“Payton deftly juxtaposes Helen’s and John’s separate struggles to stay alive and sane against forces that would render them otherwise. Set against a meticulously described Alaskan setting, each harrowing or quietly painful minute is portrayed in realistic detail. John’s ordeal proves miraculous and heartbreaking, told in passages that are sometimes difficult to read due to their intensity of rawness or sorrow. The book arcs poetically across the distance between Helen and John, drawing out the separation that they (and the reader) can hardly bear.”


“We need impeccably researched and sensitively written historical fiction that unpacks the war one single person at a time. Brian Payton’s new novel, THE WIND IS NOT A RIVER, is a welcome addition to an honorable genre. It is also a surprise --- a novel that explores a chapter in WWII history that rarely surfaces in history books and on TV channels --- the part of the campaign fought on U.S. soil. Exquisite…[Payton] gives us images that are bright and crisp…[and] can write the heck out of Alaska and war…If at times I found the plot of THE WIND IS NOT A RIVER flattened here or there, or tidied up too easily, I never once lost interest. Payton’s great gift is characterizing a specific place and time; I would read anything Payton writes about landscape.”

—Chicago Tribune

“...Payton seamlessly blends fact and fiction to tell the story of a lesser-known subject --- the Japanese invasion of Alaska’s Aleutian Islands during World War --- that’s equally as meditative and just as informed as his nonfiction...”

—The Oregonian (Portland)