Shoshana, December 17, 2008 (view all comments by Shoshana)
Ehrlich's account of her multiple trips to Greenland is a bit like hallucinatory/incantatory Annie Dillard (e.g., Holy the Firm) crossed with Jon Krakauer and dusted with cocaine. Her account is sometimes lyrical and sometimes approaches word salad with associations that are difficult to track. Most of the time, though, her train of thought can be tracked, if not anticipated, and she evokes Greenland's climate so effectively that I was shivering while I read this on Oahu.
Ehrlich has made numerous long visits to Greenland and has become familiar with the land and the people, forging enduring and deep relationships. She is a motherlode of facts and brings in other travelers' narratives (and long glosses of these in some cases, such as Rockwell Kent). As some reviewers have noted (e.g., in discussing A Match to the Heart), she makes some jarring factual errors that should have been caught by an editor. For example, she asserts, "The glacier-carved seabed was 1,000 kilometers deep" (p. 81). This is 1,000,000 meters. Since the Marianas Trench, the lowest point on the globe, is about 11,000 meters deep, Ehrlich probably meant "meters." Because Ehrlich is working in the nature/travel genres as well as the ecstatic/poetic, errors of this sort are all the more jolting.
I enjoyed Ehrlich's reports and musings despite some repetition borne of not revising and harmonizing segments that were first published elsewhere. She has had some magnificent adventures. I'd have liked to know more about her relationships and what her journeys meant to her personally. Though she names emotions, the text comes off as quite distanced and cerebral.
At the same time as I enjoyed the narrative, I was troubled by some of Ehrlich's behaviors and risks that seem foolhardy. These are foregrounded by the history of cold-weather exploration and sport, where small preparatory omissions and lack of planning has destroyed entire teams and expeditions. In one instance, her luggage is lost and she is wearing inadequate clothing. It appears that she simply ignores this rather than borrowing or buying, say, a good coat. This seems counterphobic, negligent, impulsive, or all three. Chris McCandless, the subject of Krakauer's Into the Wild, was soundly excoriated for much less. The difference is that he died and Ehrlich has not. That's a thin line, and I do wish she'd take better care of herself.
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DC, November 20, 2008 (view all comments by DC)
I had read A Match to the Heart, twice, so I was predisposed toward this book. But I had no knowledge of Greenland, nor of polar expeditions, and no particular interest. So it was like going somewhere I had never seen nor thought about - a real adventure, including back through history. Erlich manages to bring us along for the ride, over all kinds of ice, interacting with sled dogs and airport police and native people and outsiders who've made the far north their homes. It's an amazing look, with maps, into a land of ice! How people live, get by, without snowmobiles, and how snowmobiles and other modern conveniences can steal away the real, honest, tangle with life that goes on so far away from comfort and ease. This is as close as I'll get to Greenland - and I am richer for knowing the land and people are there - for as long as they can be. This is an amazing document of and testament to living with the territory you are given. Beautiful writing. You might want to start reading with a map of Greenland.
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This Cold Heaven: Seven Seasons in Greenland
Used Trade Paper
0 stars -
Vintage Books USA -
Includes bibliographical references (p. 359-361) and index.
Encompassing anthropology, history, exploration, travelogue, and memoir, the celebrated author of "A Match to the Heart" now takes readers on an extraordinary journey into the heart of the land of ice. A "New York Times" Notable Book. Drawings throughout.
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