Tisha: The Story of a Young Teacher in the Alaska Wilderness, as told to Robert Specht (author listed by LC as Anne Hobbs), 1976

Blogger ate this when I wrote it last week :*( but here goes again. My friend Marc Sheaffer, when he was working at Brodart (library supplies etc. company), polled librarians for their favorite books. Here are the top 100. [link updated again 7/1/2018, the list keeps going away!] Tisha was one of the few I’d never heard of (the others are Pillars of the Earth by Follett (not Ken, surely?) and Follow the River by Thom; there are 17 titles I haven’t tried, 7 I’ve started but didn’t finish, and 5 I can’t remember whether I’ve actually read them or not. I love most of the other 68, so it’s a good source for future reading–librarians have great taste!)

I expected this would be a heartwarming tale, but verging on sentimental/romanticized/whitewashed. Nothing of the sort. Heartwarming, yes, but very candid about the difficulties and especially the racism of the Alaskan frontier. Since it was written in the 70s, even though it’s set in the 20s, it has a level of frankness that would be unusual earlier. Anne (called “Tisha” (Teacher) by one of her students) sees the good and the bad in the people around her and is not corrosively bitter about it. And there’s a happy ending–eventually–which since it’s supposedly a true story (seems to be confirmed by witnesses), is especially gratifying. The one weird thing to me is that since Anne herself was 1/4 Native American, and she didn’t make a point of concealing it, I would have expected that to be an issue discussed one way or the other.

The jacket blurb says that Specht “is now working on a sequel to Tisha,” which he never did. Anne Hobbs Purdy wrote another book, Dark Boundary, which I’ll see if I can track down. I wonder how much of the voice is Specht and how much Anne herself; he gets all the credit on the jacket but the Library of Congress record has her as primary author, as do other sources I’ve found on the Internet. Anyway, it’s a terrific, absorbing book, and Anne is a brave and admirable character.

12 thoughts on “Tisha: The Story of a Young Teacher in the Alaska Wilderness, as told to Robert Specht (author listed by LC as Anne Hobbs), 1976

  1. I just read this book. (I found it a the thrift store) It was good, I too was surprized that she revealed that she was 1/4 Indian in the society she lived in but I think I could see her doing it to make kids “think”. The ending left me feeling a little “deflated” too much of a drop-off of an anti climax. I mean what all of 3 paragraphs to describe 10 more years w/o Fred and then 28 years of mariage….

    Betsy

  2. My book club chose this book for our July, 2005 book. We will be discussing it at this month’s meeting. I found it a fascinating story. My husband and I lived in Alaska for four years and loved every minute of it. We lived at Fort Richardson, a US Army post just outside of Anchorage. Many of the things talked about in the book were very familiar to me. I was surprised to find this site and find that it was among librarians favorite books. Life in Alaska can be harsh even today. I can’t imagine all of the hardships Miss Hobbs lived through back in 1927. There are people that still live in places inaccessible by anything but plane or dog sled and still have mail and groceries flown into them. I looked all over the internet for more info on Robert Specht but found nothing except what was in the book. Does anyone else know anything about him? I would love to know more about him. I found lots of great info about Chicken, Alaska…even a photo of the old school house where Anne taught. I am leading our discussion and would love to know more about Mr. Specht.

    Gayle, Carlisle,PA
    11:02pm 7/7/05

  3. My book club chose this book for our July, 2005 book. We will be discussing it at this month’s meeting. I found it a fascinating story. My husband and I lived in Alaska for four years and loved every minute of it. We lived at Fort Richardson, a US Army post just outside of Anchorage. Many of the things talked about in the book were very familiar to me. I was surprised to find this site and find that it was among librarians favorite books. Life in Alaska can be harsh even today. I can’t imagine all of the hardships Miss Hobbs lived through back in 1927. There are people that still live in places inaccessible by anything but plane or dog sled and still have mail and groceries flown into them. I looked all over the internet for more info on Robert Specht but found nothing except what was in the book. Does anyone else know anything about him? I would love to know more about him. I found lots of great info about Chicken, Alaska…even a photo of the old school house where Anne taught. I am leading our discussion and would love to know more about Mr. Specht.

    Gayle, Carlisle,PA
    11:02pm 7/7/05

  4. I finished reading Tisha today. (July 2005) In spite of reading this book after thirty years since it was written I could identify with her situation.

    I belong to a country which is plagued with poverty and caste system. While the economic situation of the people seem to be getting better, poor people have a tough time throughout their lives because the rich and especially the middle class people make the poor feel that it is their destiny to be poor and unfortunately the poor being uneducated and ill informed believe it and plague themselves with superstition and inflexible religious beliefs.

    I hope a time of enlightment like in Tisha occurs in every corner of the world so that all human beings are more tolerant of each other.

  5. My sister is interning with the Bureau of Land Management in Chicken this summer, and she made everyone in the family promise to read Tisha. I wasn’t that enthusiastic about being “forced” to read a book, but boy did I get sucked in! I couldn’t do anything else until I finished it. It’s one of the best love stories I’ve ever read. I agree with Betsy’s comment — I REALLY wanted a little bit more details about the happy ending! And I also wondered why the residents of Chicken didn’t ostracize her for being 1/4 Indian — did they not go by the “one drop” rule? Were they satisfied because she looked white? Or they were so desperate for a teacher that they could overlook that? But then you’d think they wouldn’t care if she got together with Fred…

    Anyway, I don’t have any additional info on Robert Specht –I also found web pages listing Anne as the author. Who knows? Gayle — did you see that one of Anne’s adopted daughters, Lynn, lives in Chicken and will answer letters? That could be a cool additiont o a book club.

  6. I just finished reading Tisha, and was deeply touched by the book.

    We were in Alaska in May, and the owner of the bookstore in Skagway told me how good the book was. I didn’t buy it, since I didn’t think we could pack one more thing.

    When I returned from our vacation, I reserved the book from our local library. I am going to suggest it for our book club.

    What a brave and courageous young woman.

  7. A Washington friend gave me Tisha and i gobbled it up. I’ve lived in Alaska since 1972, and I am SO sorry I never knew Anne Purdy then. Although I never lived in the Bush like she did, I can identify with much of what she writes about Alaska. I had no idea about the hateful prejudice of her time. What a strong and brave young woman. I wish I ‘d met her.

  8. “The soul of Betty Fairchild” written by Robert Specht 1991 St. Martin’s Press. (I have not read it)

  9. _Dark Boundry_ (correct spelling; novel) is available from the Chicken Alaska museum. If anything, it’s much more blunt than _Tisha_ and it gives a general idea of where Specht might have made interventions in the tale.

  10. I just finished reading the book which I borrowed from a friend. This book is based on the true story and I have met one of the decendents to Anne. I loved the book and was looking forward to the sequel. I guess I will jsut have to try Dark Boundarary.

  11. It was interesting to read everyones comments. If you all liked Tisha by Robert Specht it is possible you would be interested in books by Janice Holt Giles, although they are not set in Alaska, but in the lower 48. Among her historical novels that I read are: Hannah Fowler, Johnny Osage, and Voyage to Santa Fe. They are full of adventure, history, romance, and that pioneer spirit. Some however are a little too graphic in the violence area, but these atrocities are likely based on truth. You may no longer be able to check them out at them out at the library as they were written between 1956 and 1962.

  12. I am Anne Purdys grandson Brian Johnson,reading these blogs takes me back to when Tisha was first released.When the tour buses first started up the Taylor Highway all the way to my grandmothers house in a little old mining community called Chicken,Alaska.I remember as if it where just yesterday, sleeping upstairs in granmothers house and her calling out to me and my sister anita to get up we will have company soon.Not more than an hour later there would be a tour bus sitting in her yard with up to 30 people sitting in our living room,with grandmother in the center of the room telling her story,of life in the fortymile and Chicken.I never really understood back then being only 8 years old why so many people came to see her.But today as I Think back she had a real gift, when she would tell her story to people they would listen.Its not just the romance of the book its the hardships they endured during that time period of lifes struggles and hardships. Sincerly Brian Johnson
    Anne purdys or (Tisha’s) grandson.
    Just to let the intersted know My wife lisa is about to release her new book called Tisha’s house and the forymile country due out in winter 08 from Xlibris
    or http://www.Xlibris.com any questions you may e mail us at thetribe@mtaonline.net or Brian and Lisa Johnson po box 870511 wasilla,ak 99687

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