Author: David Welky
Links: Amazon|Indiebound |Goodreads
Summary: Engaging and well-researched narrative nonfiction, full of fascinating personal stories given historical context.
While attempting to reach the North Pole, explorer Robert Peary spotted what he believed to be a new content, which he named “Crocker Land”. This sighting inspired Peary’s young companions, George Borup and Donald MacMillan, to return to the arctic in hopes of discovering the last continent. As there is no continent known as Crocker Land, you can probably guess that the expedition didn’t go as planned! In fact, the explorers endured “howling blizzards, unearthly cold, food shortages, isolation, a fatal boating accident, a drunken sea captain, disease, dissension, and a horrific crime.” (source) Eventually, separated into many vulnerable groups, the men became focused on just making it home.
As I’ve mentioned throughout our Nonfiction November discussion posts, people stories are a big part of what makes narrative nonfiction enjoyable for me. Author David Welky did a great job bringing those stories to life. He shared background stories of every explorer, making me feel more invested in their fate. He also clearly put a lot of effort into reconstructing the histories of the Inuit individuals the explorers worked with and highlighted their invaluable contribution to the explorers survival. This was made more difficult by the explorers’ own dismissal of the Inuit in their journals. Although I wish Welky had explicitly stated that he used these journals to make inferences about the explorers’ emotions, the quotes he skillfully integrated into the narrative made it clear that he was using these first-hand accounts. He also did an impressive job highlighting world events surrounding the explorers personal stories.
There were a few small issues with the writing that kept this from being a five star read for me. Sometimes wording was a little awkward and several quotes were repeated twice. I occasionally felt that the writing was intended to be dramatic, but throughout, I didn’t feel much urgency driving me to find out what happened next. The inclusion of Inuit words was in keeping with the author’s respect for their contribution, but was also a bit clunky. Despite these small issues, Welky wrote a fantastic story that included all of the elements that make me fall in love with narrative nonfiction. I’d definitely recommend this to any fans of the genre.