Following his "Arctic dreams" that began with a photograph of the haggard crew of the ill-fated ship Endurance
, Alvah Simon and his wife, Diana, set sail to winter in the high north. "We call them explorers, but I knew that look in their eyes," Simon writes of the early Arctic adventurers. "They were seekers, and that is a different thing." With self-discovery as a deeper agenda, the couple ventures into Tay Bay of remote Bylot Island; it is their ultima Thule--"the Last Unknown." Their small boat is willingly frozen in the ice. When Diana is airlifted out of the Arctic to tend to an emergency back home, Simon is unexpectedly left in solitude. His journey turns inward as he confronts the "uncomfortable awakening of my spiritual self." In the waning daylight, then total darkness, Simon's days are punctuated by depression and mania, a crackled voice over the radio, Inuit visitors, and hard-earned lessons as he is driven by the forces of the Arctic winter and by "the total loss of the sun." In this elegant, well-paced book, the Arctic darkness becomes a psychological landscape perforated with light and revelation, and Simon's thrilling tale is as captivating as his language. There is a welcome intimacy here as we share the same icy hull, listening close to this searching man. Simon courageously tells us about his darkest moments, dreams, and nightmares, and when the sun emerges, new eyes greet land and relationships. Simon has discovered his ultima Thule. --Byron Ricks
From Publishers Weekly
In the summer of 1992, Simon and his wife, both experienced adventurers, set off in a 36-foot sailboat, the Roger Henry, toward northern Canada to spend a year above the Arctic Circle. In his survival memoir, Simon recounts the physical and psychological demands of the Arctic with an almost sheepish bravado; his capacity to discuss the beauty of the landscape, the culture of the Inuit and the protean nature of glacial ice is matched only by a reckless drive to make his journey more "authentic" by taking unnecessary, and often life-endangering, risks. This juxtaposition makes for gripping reading, particularly when Simon is left alone to face the sunless, sub-zero winter months of "lifesucking cold" after his wife is called away to be with her dying father. Yet the author's account is often frustratingly lacking in introspection. Running low on fuel as the cold and darkness press in on him, Simon, in harrowing solitude from November to March, might have paused to offer some self-reflection on the mixed motives of the contemporary survivalist-adventurer?a dilemma discussed in much greater depth in John Krakauer's Into the Wild, for example. Instead, Simon delivers the tropes we have come to expect from this genre (humility in the face of nature, an unfocused critique of "civilization," the romanticization of native cultures), none of which are made more convincing in light of his daredevil behavior and steel-sided ship. Some readers may be troubled by the absence of a reason for this adventure, other than to flirt with death. Editor, Jon Eaton; rights, McGraw-Hill.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc.