The Worst Journey in the World – Apsley Cherry-Garrard

The Worst Journey in the World - Apsley Cherry-Garrard
The Worst Journey in the World – Apsley Cherry-Garrard

The Worst Journey in the World has been on my reading list for a long time.

It’s Apsley Cherry-Garrard’s account of the 1910-13 Nova Terra Expedition to Antarctica, where he was part of a three-man scientific research team that undertook the harrowing Winter Journey to collect the first specimens of Emperor Penguin eggs. This is The Worst Journey in the World of the title.

However the Nova Terra expedition is better known for the explorations undertaken by its leader, Captain Robert Falcon Scott, together with Edward Wilson, Henry Bowers, Lawrence Oates, and Edgar Evans, who succeeded in reaching the South Pole on 17 January 1912, only to find that Norwegian Roald Amundsen had beaten them to it. All five men died on their journey back from the pole.

I had hesitated to embark upon The Worst Journey in the World, fearing that Apsley Cherry-Garrard’s autobiographical  analysis of the expedition would be a heavy going account reflecting the attitudes of Empire and the Edwardian era.

Sara Wheeler‘s introduction to the Vintage Classic edition I read dissolved my concerns, and I found this to be a fascinating and heart breaking read.

I’ve added Sara Wheeler’s biography of Apsley Cherry-Garrard – Cherry: A Life of Apsley Cherry-Garrard – to my reading list.

Publisher page: The Worst Journey in the World – Apsley Cherry-Garrard

The White Spider – Heinrich Harrer

The White Spider - Heinrich Harrer
The White Spider – Heinrich Harrer

A slow start – impenetrable style – but the going got easier as this account of attempts to climb the North Face of the Eiger progressed year by year.

Heinrich Harrer, of Seven Years In Tibet fame, was in the group of climbers who made the first successful ascent, in 1938.

Recalling my Urus ascent during 2015’s Cordillera Blanca Traverse, these words on page 83 resonated:

“Those hours between night and day are always a keen challenge to one’s courage. One’s body goes mechanically through the correct movements essential to gaining height; but the spirit is not yet awake nor full of the joy of climbing, the heart is shrouded in a cloak of doubt and diffidence….

They have to reconcile themselves with their own shortcomings and with constraining feelings; they have to subject themselves to the willpower already geared to the enterprise in hand. And so the first hour, the hour of the grey, shapeless, colourless dusk before dawn, is an hour of silence.”

Publisher page: The White Spider – Heinrich Harrer (translated by Hugh Merrick)

First light, Urus ascent, Cordillera Blanca Traverse, Peru 2015
First light, Urus ascent, Cordillera Blanca Traverse, Peru 2015

 

The Boy With The Topknot – Sathnam Sanghera

The Boy With The Topknot - Sathnam Sanghera
The Boy With The Topknot – Sathnam Sanghera

Sathnam Sanghera’s memories of growing up as second generation Sikh in Wolverhampton; grammar school leads to Cambridge and on to a career as a journalist in London.

Discovering his father, and subsequently his sister, both suffer from schizophrenia eventually draws him back to Wolverhampton to explore his family’s history and to have a long overdue conversation with his mother about marriage.

As Maggie O’Farrell’s quotation on the front cover says, it’s “heartbreaking and wonderful”.

Author’s page: The Boy With The Topknot – Sathnam Sanghera

Tibet, Tibet – Patrick French

Tibet, Tibet - Patrick French
Tibet, Tibet – Patrick French

Supremely readable analysis of Tibet’s history and place in the modern world, covering its relationships with China and the rest of the world (past and present – including the British invasion under Younghusband), and Patrick French‘s own exploration of the country and encounters with the people and the politics of Tibet in 1999.

On his return, he resigned his position as director of the Free Tibet Campaign.

Publisher’s page: Tibet, Tibet: A Personal History of a Lost Land – Patrick French