(Vintage, £8.99, 354pp) from the Independent Bookshop: 08430 600 030
The Magnetic North, By Sara Wheeler
Friday 14 May 2010
Inspired by the gift of a Lappish antler bracelet, "more a bangle as the two ends didn't meet", Wheeler decided to make an icy, circular journey: "Siberia to Alaska to Canada to Greenland to Spitsbergen to Lapland and back."
Combining adventure and history, the result is one of the great travel books of our times – poignant, funny, a delight to read. In seedy Siberia, 80 per cent of villagers are drunk on any day. Amid the flowery carpets of Greenland, she experiences the Inuit "naarpog": "to take extravagant pleasure in being alive".
If gold were found at the North Pole, a local muses, "There'd be 500 Alaskan whores there inside three months." A final journey on a Russian icebreaker is enlivened by a "birch twig thrashing" in the sauna. "A girl can have a worse time at sea."
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