The name of William Barents isn't that familiar to us these days beyond perhaps a line of type on your atlas, marking a patch of blue north of Norway and Russia — the Barents Sea.
But this enthralling, elemental and (literally) spine-chilling epic of courage and endurance should change all that. It certainly deserves to.
To break up the winter monotony, Pitzer works hard to establish context, whether of exploration in general or polar castaways in particular. Besides travelling in Barents’s footsteps, she has diligently mined the sources. Two men kept journals which have survived (though Barents did not), and Pitzer had them translated. They yield no glimpse of an inner life, however, and the reader will find none of the poetry of Frank Worsley in his unforgettable polar volume Shackleton’s Boat Journey, or of the determined pathos of Nansen’s account of his Arctic overwintering with the benighted Hjalmar Johansen.