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Posted August 11, 2002
Sheila Nickerson¿s travel novel is about balance. The Polaris explorers had to realize that nature, tradition, and sexual cohabitation had to exist in order to see to the safety of the crew. Likewise, Nickerson¿s vivid imagery and profound technique equally interweaves the words, emotions and facts of the Polaris¿s harrowing experience in a fresh new way to an audience otherwise unaware of the impact that one brave female had on a historical quest for the lost Franklin expedition. One of the focuses of the novel is the struggle between Western European and Inuit tradition. The situations that the two cultures encountered magnified the sometimes polar approach that both cultures took in regards to marriage, birth, death, and treatment to the earth. The great thing about Nickerson is that she doesn¿t add personal beliefs or perspective on the biography. She states what was was and doesn¿t lead the reader to absolve either sides¿ approach to a difficult situation. Likewise, Nickerson equally represents the different religious beliefs. Neither Christianity nor Inuit¿s beliefs are shed in a one-sided manner. Yet both are represented as an added pressure in the dividing gap between European and Inuit culture. Additionally, the separation of religious homogony only strengthens Tookoolito¿s position as the glue that holds this expedition together as she stays true to her own heritage but is also open to Christianity. In regards to writing technique, Nickerson, who is the former Poet Laureate of Alaska, balances out prosaic form with beautiful poetic imagery. For instance, Nickerson uses the available imagery of the natural communion of earth and man to add the ironic spin of making the communion between woman and earth, ¿Just as the earth moves counterclockwise around the sun, so was Tookoolito moving counterclockwise, back to the Arctic, back to the swirling black hole of the white man¿s dreams¿ (42). Nickerson¿s words like these empower the fight for unknown female heroes like Tookoolito. But as much as she creates beautifully arranged images, Nickerson doesn¿t stray from the facts of the expedition. Skillfully, Nickerson shapes her own writing to strongly emulate the historical journals from John Hall and George Tyson. As I was reading, it felt like the historical passages could have been written by Nickerson herself. The pictures and illustrations were also a great balance to the tale. The extensive and exhausting research Nickerson put into this book paid off when I can read a paragraph and then turn to the next page to see a beautiful artistic recreation of what I just read. Not only did it help paint the picture it gave me a chance to see native art that is uncovered by Nickerson¿s boldness to speak for the nameless. The only criticism I have is that I didn¿t really see the point for the personal anecdotes and commentary. It seems to weaken the strength of the novel. It is interesting to get a peek into the research process, but otherwise, I felt it takes away from the overall feel of the story. However, to Nickerson¿s defense, whenever personal comments are made, it¿s very clear that Nickerson is speaking on behalf of herself alone and never crosses the line from opinion into fact. Otherwise, I think this is a wonderful book. I would recommend this to anyone who wants to get a clear, accurate, and underrepresented perspective on an exciting time in Arctic exploration. The book was an easy read that moved along very quickly. Thankfully, Nickerson carefully avoided making personal comments about controversial issues in regards to religion, culture, sexual treatment, or strata within the crew. Nickerson celebrates a variety of mediums in this one project. She uses both prose and poetic writing, visual art, historical fact, and cultural history while tying it together to make it relevant to contemporary readers and issues.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted July 22, 2002
well written travel narrative
I really enjoyed the tale. I would say that it is the combination of the The Perfect Storm by Sebastian Junger and the major motion picture, Dances with Wolves. That combination renders itself to be full of conflict and friction. Sheila Nickerson creates a splendid atmosphere of constant friction: friction between man and self, man and man, man and nature, European, Christian culture and Inuit, polytheistic culture. Nickerson adds all of these elements together in an exciting and well-crafted piece of non-fiction literature. Her writing fits so well with the actual journals of the seamen of the journey that it seemed like she was present during such an exciting moment in northern exploration. I felt that she also addressed in a very dogmatic way the issue of sexual inconsistencies between white male dominion of euro-exploration and the utter dependence they had upon an Eskimo woman. All together the novel is well worth the read. As for length, it was a fairly quick read. I finished it in two days with the ability to read slow enough for detail and enjoyment. That is exactly what this book was--an enjoyment.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.