IN THE GHOST COUNTRY: A Lifetime Spent on the Edge

Peter Hillary, Author, John Elder, Author, John Elder, Joint Author
Peter Hillary, Author, John Elder, Author, John Elder, Joint Author . Free Press $25 (352p) ISBN 978-0-7432-4369-8
Reviewed on: 10/27/2003
Release date: 12/01/2003
Paperback - 288 pages - 978-0-7432-4370-4
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In 1998, explorer-adventurer Hillary (son of Sir Edmund) set off on skis with two ill-chosen companions to retrace the South Pole route that killed Robert Falcon Scott in 1912. Like Scott, Hillary and company hit horrendous barriers. The cold chewed up equipment and ravaged fingers and toes. Storms pinned the team in its tiny, fetid tent. They slowly starved, as the brutal march burned more calories than their bodies could absorb, and Hillary nearly ruptured himself dragging his 400-pound sled of supplies. But the worst torture was mental. The unending white landscape gave everyone a bad case of expeditionary madness, and Hillary got the brunt of it. His teammates began blaming him for their setbacks, and soon excluded him from the smallest social interactions. Alone in a frigid sensory-deprivation tank, Hillary began to hallucinate. Dead friends and relatives tramped with him through imagined landscapes and, with him, revisited the adventures and tragedies of his past. The miserable journey makes a terrific book, as Hillary's visions frame frequent flashbacks to other expeditions and to his New Zealand childhood. The main narrative, written in the third person by journalist Elder, is larded throughout with first-person commentary by Hillary, who is a fine, frank writer. This unusual structure solves the problem of the toneless voice that "as told to" accounts can have, while retaining a sense of intimacy and authenticity. The result is moving and insightful, scraping away the hubris of the adventure-book genre to examine the forces that propel explorers through godforsaken places. Photos. Agent, Bob Mecoy. (Jan. 14)

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