Joanna Kavenna went north in search of the Atlantis of the Arctic, the mythical land of Thule. Seen once by an Ancient Greek explorer and never found again, mysterious Thule came to represent the vast and empty spaces of the north. Fascinated for many years by Arctic places, Kavenna decided to travel through the lands that have been called Thule, from Shetland to Iceland, Norway, Estonia, and Greenland. On her journey, she found traces of earlier writers and travellers, all compelled by the idea of a land called Thule: Richard Francis Burton, William Morris, Anthony Trollope, as well as the Norwegian Polar explorer Fridtjof Nansen. She met wilderness-lovers; poets writing epics about ice; Inuit musicians and Polar scientists trying to understand the silent snows. But she came to discover that a darkness also inhabits Thule: the Thule Society, obsessed with the purity of the Nordic peoples; the 'war children' - the surviving progeny of Nazi attempts to foster an Aryan race; as well as ice-bound relics of the Cold War. Finally she arrived in Svalbard, a beautiful Arctic archipelago, at the edge of the frozen ocean. Blending travelogue, reportage, memoir, and literary essay, Joanna Kavenna explores the changing life of the far North in the 20th Century. The Ice Museum is a mesmerising story of idealism and ambition, wars and destruction, survival and memories, set against the haunting backdrop of the northern landscape.
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Joanna Kavenna teaches at St Antony's College, Oxford University. This is her first bookFrom Publishers Weekly:
The fourth-century B.C. Greek explorer Pytheas claimed to have sailed six days from Scotland and discovered a land he named Thule. From Pytheas's brief, oft-disputed account of a land of short winter days where the sea turned into a viscous mass sprang an entire mythology of a magical, northern realm hidden beyond the edges of civilization. Kavenna's discursive book takes a thoughtful stroll through the different myths of Thule, examining how it became symbolic of everything from the Victorians' lost Arcadia to a polluted fantasy of racial purity for the proto-Nazi Thule Society. Kavenna, who's written for the Guardian and other British papers, follows the mark of Thule from the beer halls of Munich to the imagined Thules of the Shetland Islands, Iceland, Greenland and beyond. While frequently rhapsodic in regard to the epic landscapes, Kavenna resists the urge to attach too much import to her travels, not forcing the mythological on the everyday (unlike many Thule hunters, including fantasist Richard Burton). Although Kavenna's voyages don't solve the mystery as such, they provide fodder for a bracing account of humankind's dream of exploration and of the explorers "determined to discover, to shade in the blanks on the maps." (Feb. 6)
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