THIS COLD HEAVEN: Seven Seasons in Greenland

Gretel Ehrlich, Author . Pantheon $27.50 (400p) ISBN 978-0-679-44200-4

The book's epigraph, "I am nothing. I see all," comes from Emerson, but it might have been spoken by any of the shamans, mythical animals or spirit guides who inhabit this haunting work. It also catches the tenor of Ehrlich's concerns, for as an essayist and a naturalist, she frequently explores the relationship between the physical world and the province of the unseen. In the summer of 1993, recovering from a lightning strike that left her with a dodgy heart, Ehrlich (A Match to the Heart) set out on the first of many journeys to Greenland. Over the next seven years, she made her way across the high Arctic, traveling by dogsled, skiff and fixed-wing airplane, "in a country of no roads, where solitude is thought to be a form of failure." Inspired by the expedition notes of Knud Rasmussen, the brilliant Inuit-Danish explorer and ethnographer who recorded what Ehrlich calls the "lifeways" of the Inuit people, she traveled with subsistence hunters, spending weeks at a time on ice. Stylistically, Ehrlich achieves an arctic clarity, pared down and translucent. Because she is not content to merely narrate events, her divagations, as well as Rasmussen's, serve as jumping-off points for all manner of inquiry—just as the Eskimos, to borrow her metaphor, used "ice as a flint on which their imaginations were fired." Reading Ehrlich, one gets the impression that she has no fixed idea about the progress of her journeys across the snow or the page. This very vulnerability, along with the narrative's pervasive sadness and loss, infuses the book with a quiet power. Maps and illus. (Nov. 1)

Reviewed on: 10/22/2001
Release date: 10/01/2001
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