Friday, October 18, 2013

Book review: "The Last Gentleman Adventurer: Coming of Age in the Arctic"

In this beautifully written book, Edward Beauclerk Maurice takes the reader to a distant, cold land to experience heartwarming stories of adventure, love and loss.

Starting in 1930, Maurice spent five years living with Eskimos (Inuit) on Baffin Island in northern Canada as a representative of the Hudson's Bay Company. He came of age there, starting as a naive 16-year-old and growing to become an experienced leader by 21.

Maurice tells his stories in an understated and humble manner. When he falls in the water, he makes a joke. When he nearly plummets to his death off a cliff, he blames his own clumsiness. When Eskimo women express interest in him, you can almost feel him blushing. You really can't help but like him.

There's danger and adventure here, too. Maurice confronts wolves and polar bears. Storms tear the roof off buildings and threaten to swamp boats. Eskimos die tragic deaths.

Particularly well-written is a story in the middle of the book where Maurice and an Eskimo come to the rescue of a village where people are dying from a contagious disease. It's a grim scene, and I could feel myself there through Maurice's writing.

As a I read "The Last Gentleman Adventurer," I was somewhat wistful that neither I, nor anyone else, will ever get a chance to experience this sort of life again. It was an isolated existence, and Maurice and the Eskimos had to completely depend on each other and to live off the land. There was almost no communication with the outside world; a supply boat came just once a year.

The book is divided into two parts the first includes highlights of Maurice's first few years on Baffin Island. The second is a more detailed description of his life at a base where he was the only non-Eskimo for one year.

In the second half of the book, there are some flat parts where Maurice could have perhaps summarized and moved on. I also wish the book had a map.

Despite those small complaints, I'd love to see someone turn this into a movie. It's not a big blockbuster story that would interest major studios, but I could see the BBC or PBS adapting this for TV.

Readers who enjoy this book would also enjoy "Alaska Wilderness" by Robert Marshall.

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