This is a book that instantly transports you away from where you are now, and not surprisingly… as it’s a memoir set almost completely in the Arctic. The stark contrasts between the bustling suburban life that I live and the remote, cold and harsh environment that Christiane lived in for a year, is evident from the very first few pages and only added to my curiosity in her journey and survival in the Arctic wilderness.
Christiane’s memoir records her day to day thoughts as she describes the spectacular nature that surrounds them and details the sheer effort that goes into activities that nowadays we take for granted such as: cleaning clothes, heating the house and having a nutritious meal. Now the memoir is set in 1934, so you could argue that the contrasts that I pick up on would be more extreme than those of that era, but nevertheless there is no doubt that readers from any generation would have been shocked by the brutal environment that the remote parts of the Arctic entail.
The reason for her trip to the Arctic is due to her husband; Hermann, who has been living there for quite some time, after falling in love with the spectacular beauty of the place and staying on after a scientific expedition. For this reason, I’m not surprised that Christiane chose to join him, she must have missed him very much and been curious to see the place that had stolen her husband’s heart.
What she wasn’t expecting, was to share the very small hut with another man; Karl. Whilst she doesn’t go into a lot of detail on her thoughts on this matter, it’s clear that this doesn’t provide a very good start to a year she thought would be just her and her husband. But it’s not long before the three of them fall into sync and all three of them appreciate what the other two bring to the table. At first the men seem to appreciate the “female touch” that Christiane brings to the hut from her cooking to her tidying, and of course the cleaning of their clothes, but as the memoir continues I could tell the men began to appreciate Christiane in ways they probably hadn’t imagined for a woman in the wild.
For when mother nature threw her worst at this harsh environment, it did not matter if you were male or female, your strength and determination deemed if you would survive it. There are countless times throughout this book that I was in awe of Christiane’s resolute and determined attitude to it all, she really was the most incredibly brave and robust individual.
Whilst I’ve mainly focused on the brutal setting, be reassured that there are plenty of softer moments within this memoir; Christiane’s love for a certain fox, the room the men set up specifically for Christiane and the jaw-dropping landscape, to name a few, are weaved into this book giving a rounded balance to these chapters and reassuring the reader that Christiane’s views are both astute and honest.
This is a memoir that is breathtakingly immersive and also a fascinating record of the hardest and most beautiful moments of life in the Arctic.
A Woman in the Polar Night is out now in paperback and eBook versions from Pushkin Press. Massive thanks to Poppy over at Pushkin Press for sending this to me as a wonderful Christmas present, it was the most perfect gift and I’m only sorry that I didn’t get around to reading it earlier!
Until next time, stay safe, Chloé x