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'Don't go looking for Antarctica without this book.' - Susan Solomon



The Most Glorified Strip of Bunting

by John McGill
Two Ravens Press, Scotland
ISBN: 978-1-906120-12-2
£9.99 paperback

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 research.

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.


A Place Beyond: Finding Home in Arctic Alaska

Nick Jans
Alaska Northwest Books
ISBN: 978-0-88240-807-1
Price: US$16.95

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.



Ice Architecture

by Michelle Galindo
Verlagshaus Braun, Germany
ISBN: 978-3-938780-59-6
Price: €39.90/£29.50/US$49.50/C$54.95

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!


Beyond Road's End: Living Free in Alaska

by Janice Schofield Eaton
Alaska Northwest Books
ISBN: 978-0-88240-754-8
Price: US$18.95

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



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