After a long hiatus I read a new book, found at the give&take shelf in my city.
I have read some of the diaries and summaries of both expeditions, so there was no suspense for me, but I was interested in this book just the same. Holt took first-hand reports of both expeditions and made a side-by-side narration that felt credible and that did create an almost cinematic suspense.
I started the book with a vague worry that it would sound heroic and epic, which would have told more about the narrator than the expeditions themselves. The first chapter dispersed that worry right away, painting a portrait of Amundsen that was not exclusively about his courage, determination, and other necessary qualities for the expedition in that absolutely inhospitable continent. Somehow it managed to make statements that didn’t feel like bringing arguments for a specific point, and that was helpful for me, because it made me feel allowed to keep all information in focus. The following chapter about Scott was similarly somehow mixed. The whole book kept that non-filter / non-focus in a way that made it sound credible – in a way that I will not be able to double-check though, so I will not say that it is an accurate depiction.
As a difference from my other reads about both expeditions, this book is definitely shorter, so there had to be some selection from the full range of sources. Though, as for the portraits of the expeditions’ leaders, there was an overall impression of concreteness, down to the ugliest details – not the dangers and disagreements, but the difficulty in traveling by sea on overloaded ships, getting water for drinking when out on the ice, keeping themselves clean and dry (as good as impossible), on top of the most mundane logistic/transport/food issues.
I got slower and slower in reading the book, as it narrated the slow walk to death of Scott’s polar team. Even Amundsen’s return and celebration was rendered as a mix of feelings, reactions, details. I needed a couple days to emerge from the intense feelings woken up by the book.