The Northwest passage is the route across the roof of the world at the very top of the Americas connecting the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, and is a thing of myth and legend. It has claimed whole ships and countless lives as they ventured into the ice and uncharted territories. With the rise of global temperatures this passage is now open to shipping, but it is still a place of mystery and unknown landscapes. In 2010 Kathleen Winter was asked if she would like to join a ship making this voyage, as the official writer. She would join various people on the ship, historians, scientists and archaeologists, each there for a particular reason.
Her journey started in Greenland. The towns and villages have gaudy coloured homes that perch on the shores of this immense landmass; it is part of Denmark at the moment, and their influence is strong over the local population. As they reached the shores of North Canada, Winter is starting to get to know the others on the ship and start the process of making friends, and understanding why they have come on this journey and learning some of the skills and knowledge that they have bought. They are given the opportunity to leave the ship at certain points and explore the landscape and meet the Inuit people. The far north is in a state of flux at the moment, and the rights of the people who have deep attachment to their land are being ridden roughshod over as nation look to exploit the vast mineral resources of the region. It is also a personal journey of reminiscences of her parent’s journey from the UK to Newfoundland to start a new life and the difficulties and challenges that she encountered starting afresh.
Winter’s lyrical prose in this book is wonderful. She treads lightly amongst her subjects, wanting to encounter places and experiences, rather than have them pointed out to her. Her descriptions of the places are intense and haunting as she evokes the stark beauty of this harsh land. She mentions one of my favourite books of all time in here too, This Cold Heaven by Gretel Ehrlich, an accoutof her seven trips to Greenland. There were times when Winter’s writing reminded me of Ehrlich’s book with her descriptions of the landscape and people. So why only four stars? As fascinating as her own personal memories were, I think that it took a little away from the journey that she undertook across this dramatic landscape.