In my post on Tuesday, I mentioned the weather in January is a perfect for a story of survival. The best survival story I have ever read is The Endurance by Caroline Alexander. It recounts the 1914-16 expedition to Antarctica, led by Britisher Ernest Shackleton. The goal of the expedition had been to be the first people to cross Antarctica. When their sailing ship The Endurance is crushed in the grinding ice, Shackleon’s goal changes to getting all his men back home alive.
I first read it in the summer of 1999 or 2000. I was working the children’s desk at a library, waiting for customers to ask questions. It was a slow evening, and I began reading The Endurance either to fill time or research for a library program.
Ms. Alexander’s spell-binding prose drew me in. I felt like I was living the adventure with Ernest Shackleton and his men, sensing the bitter cold, the blinding glow of sunlight on snow, and the increasing desperation as the men dragged themselves to the sea with their heavy but small sailboats, rescued from The Endurance.
When I looked up from the book, I was surprised to see a carpeted room, filled with book shelves and people in summer clothes. Where were the ice and snow? I had to take a minute to reorient myself.
Beside Ms. Alexander’s talent as a writer, it was the photographs that helped bring the story alive to me. Frank Hurley, the expedition’s photographer, was able to save many of the photographs he had taken before The Endurance had to be abandoned and brought them safely home after months on the the open ice. Unlike most works of history, I didn’t have to imagine the men from an author’s thumbnail descriptions. The photographs let me see exactly what they looked like and I could use those images to recreate the action in my mind.
So if you are looking for a good read on a cold and wintry evening, you can do no better than The Endurance. It will make you grateful for heat, slippers, and warm cups of tea.
What other survival stories have captured your imagination?