Saturday, November 28, 2009

Review: Terra Incognita by Sara Wheeler

It probably takes an odd duck to think that traveling to Antarctica would be simply amazing. I am that odd duck. I would love to one day visit this ice bound continent. And that's not likely to happen any time soon so reading about someone who did make that trip is next best. And if I'm an odd duck for thinking I'd love to go, Sara Wheeler is probably an even odder duck (or perhaps that should be odder penguin) for having gone.

The book is both a travel memoir and a history of man's famed and forgotten travels in the frozen south. Wheeler interweaves her own travels, planned and spur of the moment, through the icy continent, visiting scientific bases and outposts, learning about the realities of life on the ice now with excerpts from Scott and Aumundsen and Shackleton's journeys. The historical information is never overwhelming, instead adding dimension to the experiences that Wheeler herself has in her journeys through Antarctica. Both the modern day and historical travels are fascinating. Wheeler also spends much time describing the other people who live and work on the ice. All of them are clearly a breed apart and all are moved by their time on the ice.

This is more contemplative than many travelogues but it is no less descriptive than most for taking place in a landscape that is, on first impression, so uniform. Wheeler captures the hardships that plague life on the ice in vivid language but she also celebrates this still so unknown continent also. Wheeler's trip to the actual South Pole is merely one instance of her travels around and given no more importance than her other camp visits. Her final weeks, spent with only one artist companion, in a hut set aside for their creative endeavors offers a sense of peace and closure to the end of her journeyings. Readers with an interest in history and the Antarctic will enjoy this slow and thorough narrative of a summer (and part of a winter) in the south.


  1. This sounds wonderful to me! I really like reading about explorers throughout history and I like that this one also has the author's modern point of view. Just last night I was watching some of March of the Penguins, so this cover really caught my eye. And just so you know, you're not the only one who would love to travel to Antartica -- Mr. Poppers dreamed about, too!

  2. This sounds amazing! I would never, ever, under any circumstances brave the climate of Antarctica, but it would be fun to live vicariously.


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