Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Book Review: Joanna Kavenna's The Ice Museum

In the fourth century BC the Greek explorer Pytheas sailed between the pillars of Hercules, modern day Straights of Gibraltar, then headed north to reach Britain.

He sailed further, up to Scotland and then onwards for six days until he reached the land he called Thule. Its inhabitants described how in the summer the sun never set and in winter it was always dark, and nearby the water itself turned solid.

It was his furthest north, and he turned round to make his way back to the warm waters of the Med.

But what did he find? Where was Thule?

The Ice Museum is about the search for Thule across the wide lands of northern Europe, from Iceland to Norway and even the Baltic.

The subject is of course of interest to one who has himself sailed north from Scotland, and Tristan and I encountered both the Faroes and Iceland.

In many ways Iceland does indeed match the description of Thule - the only drawback is there is currently no evidence of it being inhabited that far back.

The book builds on Thule as a historical place to Thule as an idea, and how that changed over time as the far north itself was explored and then mapped. Once it was the furthest unknown, a place of gothic wonders far from civilisation, then contaminated, as it became a symbol of purity for the Nazis, and finally a name to place on a military base in Greenland.

I enjoyed this book though must admit I wanted to have read more about methods to try and place where Pytheas's Thule actually was (as in his Wikipedia entry) and less about the bonkers ideas of the Nazis.

But its well written and readable, a travelogue that uses a word from the far past and furthest north to visit many interesting places and to meet characters ranging from poets to ex-presidents.

1 comment:

Sailing NYC said...

Sailing is a great experience really. I have recently started sailing. New York is a great place for sailing. It is really nice place.