"The Voyage of the Narwhal"
(W.W. Norton & Co., First Edition, Paperback, 1998, read: Februar 00)
"Capturing a crucial moment in the history of exploration - the mid-nineteenth-century romance with the Arctic - Andrea Barrett's compelling novel tells the story of a fateful expedition. Through the eyes of the ship's scholar-naturalist, Erasmus Darwin Wells, we encounter the Narwhal's crew, its commander, and the far-north culture of the Esquimaux. In counterpoint, we meet the women left behind in Philadelphia, explorers only in imagination. Together, those who travel and those who stay weave a web of myth and mystery, finally discovering what they had not sought, the secrets of their own hearts."
I've never really been interested in adventure stories. And I have to confess that I stumbled over this book quite by accident because I liked the cover. But the cover text and the comments of the bookseller in San Francisco seemed to say that this was something different than your ordinary 'man goes to sea, survives against all odds and returns to his wife and children'-story.
Maybe I did those adventures stories wrong in general: the description of an expedition to the Arctic in 1855 can't leave anybody cold. But here it aren't just the difficulties of the journey (the narrowness of the ship, the problems amongst the men, being stuck in the ice, the diminishing of supplies, the desperate attempts to get home alive) but also the times thereafter. What happens when the discoveries one has made aren't acknowledged because one had to leave behind the evidence. When one tries desperately to regain his reputation. When one has to watch how others receive the reward even if their actions were wrong. And, just how the cover text promises, it's about the women who had to stay at home even if they might have been better explorers.
The main characters of this story are fiction. But most of the 'background characters' are historical persons who participated it similar expeditions as the one described here. And in the end of the story you can only admire them. [Dorothée Büttgen, April 00]