Most Glorified Strip of Bunting
by John McGill
Two Ravens Press, Scotland
The US North Polar Expedition of 1871–73, commanded by Charles
Francis Hall with a multinational crew on board the Polaris,
was a disaster-strewn adventure that counts amongst the most bizarre
and exciting in the annals of Arctic exploration.
In this fictionalised account, McGill’s colourful prose will
hold you in thrall. As well as the ship becoming icebound, the crew
cast adrift on an ice flow, several narrow escapes and a leader intent
on planting the Stars & Stripes at the North Pole come what may,
there are also continual cultural clashes between the apparently civilised
Caucasians and the two Inuit families accompanying them. Like the bold
brushstrokes of an oil painting, we follow the events leading up to
the suspicious death of their commander.
With wild imagination the author draws us into the moment as he sees
it, crafting the characters by putting words into their mouths and feeling
into their souls. There is feuding talk, bullying, banter. Inuit lore
is explored, enabling the reader to have a view from the other side
– and to be grateful not to experience the privations of living
in an igloo! This marvellously wrought novel is surely based on painstaking
The curious sequence of chapters, alternating between ‘Questing’
and ‘Drifting’, with Board of Enquiry testimonies interceding,
rather interrupted the flow for me, though that doesn’t mean other
readers won’t like it. In fact, this is a rambunctious tale that
will not disappoint.
Place Beyond: Finding Home in Arctic Alaska
Alaska Northwest Books
This is a gem of a book: one man’s passion and profound respect
for life in remote Alaska told in just 28 short essays.
So immersed is he in his northern home that Jans has to go Outside
for a few weeks every year “just to remind myself that there’s
a world beyond. If I stayed up here too long without a break, I might
forget where I came from.” I can well understand why.
Originally hailing from Maine, Florida, the first of these essays,
'Grandpa’s Ghost', tells how Jans came to Alaska in the first
place, and his family’s reactions. Not much further into the book
and you can understand exactly why he succumbed to the lure of the great
North: empathetic descriptions of the life and the people draw the reader
comfortably into his world.
The unspoken bond of community living is sensitively portrayed in 'One
of Us'; there’s a marvellous description of the winter cold and
endless dark in 'The Light Within'; 'Mister Rue' pays homage to the
long lost bush pilot era. And my favourite? 'Wolves Are Listening'.
I won’t say why, you’ll just have to find out for yourself.
by Michelle Galindo
Verlagshaus Braun, Germany
The title conjures up an image of the famous ice hotels constructed
in Scandinavia each winter to attract wealthy tourists, or at the very
least the traditional igloos of the High Arctic. Construction in the
coldest regions of the world poses enormous challenges, and this book
is a paean to the modern architects and builders who have succeeded.
Projects detailed here are fantastical and functional, sympathetic
to their environment and aesthetically pleasing. Structures are diverse:
the Indian Research Base in Antarctica, the School of Nursing in Greenland,
the Aurland Lookout in Norway, and the extraordinary Dragspelthuset
in Sweden. Countries include Antarctica, Canada, Austria, Denmark, Germany,
Greenland, Iceland, Norway (predominantly, I’m pleased to see!),
Patagonia, Sweden, Switzerland and the USA.
No expense has been spared in the manufacturing of the book, and the
final result is worth every penny. Heavy paper stock bound into hardcovers
in a landscape format puts a lot of strain on the spine, so the construction
needs to be solid. The sewn pages allow the book to open flat without
any creaking or curving of the pages. The page design with its subtle
use of white space leaves the images to speak for themselves. Only one
paragraph of description per project is presented in English, Spanish,
German and French. Photographs are of the technical kind (rather than
artistic as in Blueprint magazine) yet stunning and eloquent.
A limited number of architectural drawings are included.
This book will appeal to architects, designers, art lovers, anyone
with a general interest in architecture and everyone with a passion
for cold climates. It would grace an intellectual’s coffee table.
And it is a work of art in itself. Perfect!
Road's End: Living Free in Alaska
by Janice Schofield Eaton
Alaska Northwest Books
Have you ever wanted to follow a dream? Jan and Ed did. They sold all
they had to move to Alaska. More or less following their nose rather
than a definitive plan, they found the perfect spot and made it their
home. Ed’s experience as a builder was invaluable, and Jan was
the sort that could turn her hand to most things. They integrated well
into the local community and were smitten with the spirit of the place.
Having to live off the land as their savings dwindled, Jan became interested
in the medicinal properties of Alaska’s wild plants and their
culinary uses. In the absence of a comprehensive book on the subject,
she determined to write one herself and this took her on another journey,
culminating in the publication of Discovering Wild Plants and
Alaska’s Wild Plants.
Jan is a gifted writer and her text flows beautifully, without repetition.
Her motivation for writing the book is not revealed until very near
the end: the disaster wrought upon this precious land by the Exxon Valdez
oil spill and the eventual creation of the Kachemak Heritage Land Trust
which works to protect and conserve the Kenai Peninsula.
Part love story, part adventure, part natural history, this is a touching
and fascinating memoir on life in Alaska and a truly pleasurable read.
All reviews by S.G. Servian