Colin Holt in The Victoria Times-Colonist“A tale worth following to the end of the Earth”
Times - Colonist [Victoria, B.C] 16 June 2013: D.9.
By Jay Ruzesky
Nightwood Editions, 239 pp., $24.95
Vancouver Island author Jay Ruzesky's In Antarctica is a hugely enjoyable tale of a journey to Antarctica, both his own and that of his relative, the Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen.
Ruzesky alternates between his own voyage to Antarctica and Amundsen's historic achievement of reaching the South Pole in 1911, managing to fill each chapter with adventure.
Amundsen's attempt at the South Pole begins in secrecy as everyone, including the crew, believes he is setting out for the North Pole - one of the Norwegian's many tactics used to get a time advantage over the British as they race to be the first to claim the Pole.
Amundsen's experience is a hard and dangerous one as he has to battle the elements, the dogs and at times his own crew along the way. The relationship between the crew and the dog teams that eventually get them to their destination is a fascinating, and at times heartbreaking, story all on its own. The fact that he not only successfully made the South Pole, but then went on to be the first to reach the North Pole, makes him one of history's greatest explorers.
Ruzesky's route to Antarctica is a bit more relaxed, and he and his brother make stops in South America and spend time sightseeing in shorts and T-shirts - a far cry from the wintering the crew of the Fram experienced a century earlier. As Ruzesky points out, "I was taken to Antarctica because that is how one goes these days." And while his route may have been less gruelling, it also allows him time to visit spots like the home of Chilean poet and politician Pablo Neruda.
If Ruzesky had to go to Antarctica because it was in his blood (Amundsen was his great-grandfather's cousin) it could just as easily be argued that he had to go to Santiago because poetry is in his blood. In Antarctica may not be a book of poetry, but the respect and command of language that makes Ruzesky such a wonderful poet is on display throughout the book.
He vividly brings to life the beauty of Antarctica, a place that to the unfamiliar may seem like just a white barren wasteland. Ruzesky seems to find himself at home here and treats readers to wonderful descriptions of the animals (he grows particularly fond of penguins) and the many colours of the land that make up our least-populated continent.
A successful work of nonfiction should do at least two things for a reader: First, it should leave one feeling as though they have learned something, and second, they should want to know more. In Antarctica succeeds on both these counts quite handily, and includes a list of works consulted to point readers in the right direction should they want to spend more time in Ruzesky's Antarctica.
Ruzesky closes out the book with a nice round of acknowledgements of all the people who helped with the book, and also includes a paragraph that states: "This story, while fiction, is based on actual events." This seems to blur the lines even more than the creative non-fiction classification on the back of the book. It made me wonder just what was it that I had read, but it was immediately apparent that it wouldn't have mattered if the entire story was made up. Ruzesky is such a fine writer - fact or fiction - that he is worth following to the end of the Earth.
-- COLIN HOLT