A modern classic on exploring and understanding the most uncharted place on our planet.
Sara Wheeler's books include the international bestseller Terra Incognita: Travels in Antarctica, of which the Telegraph reviewer wrote, 'I do not think there will ever be a better book on the Antarctic.' The Magnetic North: Notes from the Arctic Circle, was chosen as Book of the Year by Will Self, Michael Palin, A. N. Wilson and others. She has published two biographies of travellers: Cherry: A Life of Apsley Cherry-Garrard, and Too Close to the Sun: The Life and Times of Denys Finch Hatton, and was immensely relieved to write about women at last in O My America!. She lives in London.
Journalist Wheeler (Travels in a Thin Country, on Chile) spent more than two years researching and organizing a seven-month journey to Antarctica, becoming the first foreigner to join the American National Science Foundation's Antarctic Artists' and Writers' Program. Her wry, lucid account of that journey juxtaposes the epic exploits of heroic early Antarctic explorers (Robert Scott, Ernest Shackleton, Roald Amunden, Douglas Mawson, Apsley Cherry-Garrard, et al.) with her own adventures. She offers a critical survey of the literature of Antarctic exploration and provides as well insights into the historical and cultural impact of Antarctic exploration on the British and Norwegian national consciousnesses. While the hardships the intrepid Wheeler suffered are a faint echo of those endured by polar pioneers, there's still a wealth of absorbing detail to make the point: use and operation of toilets in subzero; foodstuffs and their creative preparation; transportation, be it dogsled, skis or snowmobile; proper layering of protective clothing; the leisure activities and quirks of the varied scientists and support crews ("Frozen Beards") she encountered. Along the way, she offers a rare woman's view of a thoroughly male place, tolerant of women in most cases but downright hostile in some (as in the U.K. zone). Wheeler writes elegantly and movingly about the unearthly landscape and its effects: "The twin peaks... were backlit against a pearly blue sky.... Ribboned crystals imprisoned in the ice glimmered like glowworms. It was swathed in light, pale as an unripe lemon. The scene said to me, `Do not be afraid.' It was like the moment when I pass back the chalice after holy communion." Her book, fascinating reading for any explorer, armchair or otherwise, concludes with the recipe for her renowned "Bread-and-Butter Pudding (Antarctic Version)." (Mar.)
Wheeler was the first woman sponsored by the U.S. National Science Foundation to travel to Antarctica. Her 1995 journey forms the basis for this unique account in which she juxtaposes her observations and experiences against the exploits of those explorers from the early years of polar discovery who are immortalized in the annals of arctic history. Her love and awe of this stark environment are evident in nearly every word she writes. During her seven-month stay in this frozen land, she visited some of the national bases, traveled to several regions of Antarctica, and lived through four seasons. Wheeler immediately connects with this starkly beautiful land, despite the dangers of frigid temperatures and virtually nonexistent creature comforts. Most of the people she meets are warm, friendly, funny, and unique all qualities useful for getting along, sharing, and surviving in such bleak circumstances. Patricia Gallimore's British pronunciations are well suited to the book. Armchair travelers will be mesmerized by Wheeler's imagery; others will learn some interesting facts and obscure bits of history about this region; no one will be untouched by the stark beauty and eerie magnetism conveyed by her words. Highly recommended for all public library collections. Gloria Maxwell, Penn Valley Community Coll., Kansas City, MO Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
"Antarctica could hope for no better chronicler: spirited, humorous
and highly intelligent, she is also a writer of rare talent" *
"Penetrating, vivacious and often amusing, Wheeler's record has a sharp authenticity" * The Times *
"She writes with a consistent wry wit... she never lacks empathy, compassion or generosity for people whose values, background and gender were the polar opposite of hers...What she has done could not be done better" * Independent *
"Her book is an impressive achievement, one genuinely brushed by the ghosts of the past" -- Beryl Bainbridge * Literary Review *
"Terra Incognita deserves to be a bestseller...a wonderful book and terrific corrective to the polar bulldust periodically emitted by Sir Ralph Wotsisname and others of his ilk" * Daily Telegraph *