Quoted: Peggy Herring’s Anna, Like Thunder

In Anna, Like Thunder (Brindle & Glass Publishing), Peggy Herring blends history and fiction to offer a fresh retelling story of St. Nikolai, the Russian ship that ran aground off the Olympic Peninsula into Indigenous territory in 1808. At its centre is the fascinating story of eighteen-year-old Anna Petrovna Bulygina, one of the ship’s crew members, who begins to question Russian imperialist values after she is captured and enslaved among various Indigenous communities.


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The narrator and title character of Anna, Like Thunder is eighteen-year-old Anna Petrovna Bulygina. Married to a navigator for the Russian American Company, she’s on board a trading ship when it runs aground on the west coast of North America in November 1808. Historical records say that after a week she was captured, enslaved, and subsequently traded up and down the coast by the Indigenous peoples of that area—the Makahs, Quileutes, and Hoh. But the record also says that when she had an opportunity to be rescued she refused, and instead advised her rescuers to surrender to the Makahs whom she called “kind and humane people.”These words are reported to have struck the rescuers like “a clap of thunder”: loud, unexpected, and unnerving.  Anna’s refusal calmed the contentious relations between the inhabitants of the region and the stranded sailors. It also resulted in the survival of most of the twenty-two crew members who eventually took Anna’s advice and surrendered—and who were rescued eighteen months after the shipwreck. Thunder also connects fictional Anna to her parents. In the novel, her mother embraces the folklore of old Russia and respects the pantheon of spirits of the forest, fields, and home, including the thunder god Perun. Her father rejects the folklore but, as an amateur astronomer, certainly has his gaze turned to the sky.Thunder evokes west coast Indigenous spirituality, too. Thunderbird is central to the history, beliefs, and rituals of the Makahs, Quileutes, and Hoh. Thunderbird is part of the Great Flood tradition told by the Hoh and Quileutes. The Makahs say the rustling of its wings causes thunder.More than a hundred years after Anna’s time, poet Anna Akhmatova (1889–1966) survived some of Russia’s most turbulent history. She spent many years out of favour with successive political regimes, and though her work was sometimes condemned, it remained popular. Her thunder is found in her poems and in acts of resistance: she circulated banned poetry; with her contemporaries, she reconstructed and preserved destroyed works—they’d gather and write out their poems, each person committing one line to memory before the incriminating paper was burnt; at a time when many artists and intellectuals were fleeing the country, Akhmatova resisted that, too, by refusing to leave. She would not live in exile, though many of her friends, both in and outside Russia, thought her choice foolish.                 However, just as it was with Anna Petrovna Bulygina, the poet’s refusal left a legacy: enduring literature. Among Akhmatova’s best-known works are the cycle of poems titled “Requiem,” an elegy to the Russians who lived during Stalin’s Great Purge, and “You Will Hear Thunder,” the poem quoted in this epigraph.*  *  *Thanks to Peggy for sharing the story behind the epigraph that leads to Anna, Like Thunder, and to Tori at Brindle & Glass for making the connection! Click here for more Quoted.