Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Bold combo of memoir, travelogue

  • Print

On his mother's side, British Columbia poet and professor Jay Ruzesky is a cousin, twice-removed, of Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen.

Ruzesky's compelling new memoir, In Antarctica, tells the story of his trip to the Antarctic a century after his ancestor became the first person to set foot on the South Pole.

Ruzesky, who now teaches in Duncan, spent his childhood dreaming of the polar expeditions. But his adult life had been consumed by writing three collections of poetry and a novel, teaching and having a family.

As the 2011 anniversary of Amundsen's achievement approached, Ruzesky tried to reconcile himself to not following in his ancestor's footsteps.

He failed. Instead, Ruzesky found himself online, booking a berth on a ship that would take him from Patagonia to the Antarctic.

What's more, he convinced his brother Scott to come along, even if his sibling's first question was, "Which one of us is Amundsen?"

Ruzesky knew he was incurring tens of thousands of dollars of debt but thought there might be a book in his trip across the ice. (Which, in case you're wondering, makes perfect economic sense to a poet.)

Structurally, In Antarctica parallels Ruzesky's 2011 trip with episodes from Amundsen's 1911 voyage on the Fram and his earlier expedition to the Antarctic on the Belgica in 1887. His title is obviously an homage to the late Bruce Chatwin's classic 1977 travel memoir, In Patagonia.

The sections from Ruzesky's point of view meld travel writing with memoir, which effectively sets the stage for the writer's month-long voyage.

For instance, though Ruzesky has called B.C. home for 20 years, he spent his childhood in the cold-weather climes of Winnipeg, Thunder Bay, Saskatoon and Calgary.

One story that would be familiar to anyone who grew up on the Prairies details how the entrance collapsed to the quinzee he and his schoolmates had built in their school playground in Thunder Bay.

This is meaningful, given that Amundsen's crew spent more than a year in a large hut connected to a series of snow caves on the Ross Ice Shelf before making their attempt on the pole.

Also interesting is Ruzesky's anecdote of a failed dog-sledging lesson in Whitehorse in 2002. Knowing that Amundsen's success in reaching the South Pole was largely attributed to his use of dogs instead of ponies, like his English rival Robert Falcon Scott, supercharges this story.

Ruzesky also includes meditations on exploration and cartography and provides context for Amundsen's journey by providing thumbnail sketches of other voyages to both the North and South poles.

The other half of In Antarctica is in Amundsen's voice, an incredibly detailed account that Ruzesky somehow cobbled together from the explorer's journals and photographs.

More importantly, these sections are very finely written. Ruzesky illuminates Amundsen's dreamy childhood and his possible motives for devoting his life to exploration instead of medicine, as his mother would have preferred.

Ruzesky's description of Admundsen's affair with the married Sigrid Castberg that preceded the 1911 voyage, however, read like the best historical fiction.

All of which is to say that In Antarctica is a bold and satisfying composite of creative non-fiction, memoir and travel writing.

Ariel Gordon is a Winnipeg poet whose paternal great-grandfather died on the shores of Antarctica's South Georgia Island in 1914.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 3, 2013 A1

History

Updated on Saturday, August 3, 2013 at 6:46 PM CDT: fixes formatting.

Fact Check

Fact Check

Have you found an error, or know of something we’ve missed in one of our stories?
Please use the form below and let us know.

* Required
  • Please post the headline of the story or the title of the video with the error.

  • Please post exactly what was wrong with the story.

  • Please indicate your source for the correct information.

  • Yes

    No

  • This will only be used to contact you if we have a question about your submission, it will not be used to identify you or be published.

  • Cancel

Having problems with the form?

Contact Us Directly
  • Print

You can comment on most stories on winnipegfreepress.com. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

You can comment on most stories on winnipegfreepress.com. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

Have Your Say

New to commenting? Check out our Frequently Asked Questions.

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscribers only. why?

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press Subscribers only. why?

The Winnipeg Free Press does not necessarily endorse any of the views posted. By submitting your comment, you agree to our Terms and Conditions. These terms were revised effective April 16, 2010.

letters

Make text: Larger | Smaller

LATEST VIDEO

Peguis Chief Hudson comments on toddler's death upgrade to homicide investigation

View more like this

Photo Store Gallery

  • Jia Ping Lu practices tai chi in Assiniboine Park at the duck pond Thursday morning under the eye of a Canada goose  - See Bryksa 30 Day goose challenge Day 13- May 17, 2012   (JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS)
  • KEN GIGLIOTTI / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS / Jan 10  2011 ‚Äì WEB STDUP ‚Äì Frosty morning at -15 degrees C , in pic frost covers the the Nellie McClung statue  on the MB Legislature grounds at 7am

View More Gallery Photos

Poll

Should Manitoba support the transport of nuclear waste through the province?

View Results

Ads by Google