Thursday, May 11, 2006

An unusual read (for me).

Icebound by Dr. Jerri Nielsen

I'm not a big fan of partially ghostwritten "autobiographies" written about the newsmaker of the moment and released on the quick in order to capitalize on whatever meme the media is stuck on at the moment. But Dr. Jerri Nielsen's adventures in Antarctica seemed a bit more worthwhile and interesting than the types of stories this genre usually encapsulates. [For those who don't quite remember, Dr. Jerri Nielsen was the "winter over" doctor at the South Pole station in 1999, when she discovered she had breast cancer.]

I listened to the audio book, and I have to give two warnings:
1.) The unabridged version is read by Dr. Jerri Nielsen, who is clearly not trained. The reading is monotone nearly all the way through (except when she cusses), and this can be jarring. But by the end of the second tape I was used to it.
2). The book suffers from too clever by half attempts to be poetic. I assume these are the fault of the co-author Maryanne Vollers. Luckily they never become so ludicrous as to destroy interest in the narrative.

The narrative is great. The only rough spot is at the beginning, when Dr. Jerri Nielsen has to paint a sympathetic picture of herself as a woman who went through a nasty divorce and lost custody of her children. Since the current legal system almost universally favors mothers in custody battles, and since part of the impetus for the divorce was an affair she had, Dr. Jerri Nielsen treads this ground lightly and manages to come off fairly well despite all that. Her description of her ex-husband could come across as bitter, but instead it comes across as more or less accurate (especially given his later actions after the divorce while she was in Antarctica fighting for her life).

Once she gets to Antarctica, the narrative picks up. The descriptions of the culture, scenery and politics of the South Pole are enjoyable, picturesque and engrossing. Once she discovers she has breast cancer, the narrative takes on an air of danger that makes it as gripping as any action movie.

A Highly recommended book - especially since most of us will never visit Antarctica, this seems to me the next best thing.

[I understand there was a TV movie starring Susan Sarandon based on the book, but I haven't seen it and have heard it takes quite a few liberties with the tale].

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