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From Publishers Weekly
Bonné&'s first novel to be published in the United States retells the story of Ernest Shackleton&'s 1914 expedition to the Antarctic, which resulted in the ship Endurance being trapped and a subsequent harrowing rescue attempt. This is well-trodden ground, to be sure, but Bonné succeeds in placing the reader firmly alongside the stricken explorers and in relating the journey through the voice of the youngest crew member, 17-year-old Merce Blackboro. Merce, a young Welshman who has stowed away on the Endurance following an even more ill-fated first sailing expedition, grows from shipboard scapegoat into something like Shackleton&'s kindred spirit. The two men&'s shared enthusiasm for the history of polar exploration is more than a common interest—the stories Merce reads and later retells may even hold part of the key to their survival. Bonné&'s narrative illustrates Shackleton&'s unorthodox but undeniably effective leadership strategies in the face of incredible odds as the men&'s situation grows increasingly desperate: Our common aim, survival, has divided us after all and alienated us from one another. One of the book&'s most moving moments is when the crew eventually realizes that the world has been engulfed in war and political turmoil while they&'ve been trapped in Antarctic ice. (Oct.)
Bonné’s novel, based on Sir Ernest Shackleton’s ill-fated 1914 quest to be the first to walk across Antarctica, is told from the point of view of 17-year-old Merce Blackboro who, denied a berth on Shackleton’s ship Endurance, decides to become a stowaway. Discovered once the ship is at sea, he is made the ship’s steward and an eyewitness to all that ensues. Merce is an engaging protagonist, and the story he is given to tell is generally a compelling one. Though it has a slow start—daily life on board the ship is seldom exciting—the story picks up pace dramatically when Endurance is trapped in ice and slowly crushed. Forced to abandon ship, the 28-member crew find themselves equally trapped in one of the most forbidding places on earth. The story of their survival—though Bonné has taken some liberties with the historical record—is legendary and the stuff of high drama. Fans of adventure and survival tales against overwhelming odds won’t want to miss this one. --Michael Cart
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In fact, though, Merce Blackboro is not entirely invented. There was indeed a Welsh stowaway on the Endurance (Shackleton's ship), named Perce Blackborow; Mirko Bonné admits to slightly changing his name to match his own initials and become, in effect, his alter ego. I am sure he has also considerably filled out his back-story and character, and given him a role in the expedition rather different from that of his near-namesake. Shackleton takes a surprising interest in the boy, probably impressed by how well he stands up to their tempestuous first meeting, and makes him his personal steward. Although I did not see much of the scholar in Merce as he is first introduced, the great explorer singles him out as a kind of intellectual apprentice. Soon he has read most of the classics of polar exploration in his mentor's library, giving him an ability to see their rapidly worsening situation in perspective, which earns him the respect of most of the other members of the crew. All these others are real people, whose thoughts and dialogue Bonné may have imagined, but not the basic facts of their histories. What started out as a story of conquest and exploration becomes instead a novel of how many different personalities working under a strong leader get along together in atrocious circumstances and help one another survive.
[STOP READING NOW IF YOU WANT TO LET BONNÉ TELL THE STORY IN HIS OWN WAY; THE REST IS HISTORY]
In fact, Shackleton never made it across the Antarctic. Due to an unusually frigid summer, the Endurance became locked in the ice many miles from their intended debarkation point, forcing the party to remain on board for an entire winter before the ship is finally crushed by the ice and sinks, leaving them to fend as best they can in tents and open boats. What caught the attention of the British public on their return to civilization after almost two years away from it was Shackleton's incredible feat of leadership and courage, bringing his entire party to safety. As an epic of heroism in the teeth of failure, it rivals the story of Captain Scott's fatal South Pole attempt of two years earlier. Shackleton, who had gone out with Scott on his first expedition, learned from his mentor's mistakes and brought every single member of his party back alive. But, as Bonné points out, his fame was relatively short-lived; it takes the loss of life really to capture the public imagination. At least until a novelist like Bonné comes along to refocus the spotlight. [4.5 stars]