Sunday, August 1, 2010

Death on the Barrens : A True Story of Courage and Tragedy in the Canadian Arctic - George James Grinnell

Summary: Set in the remote arctic region of Northern Canada, this book takes readers on a harrowing canoe voyage that results in tragedy, redemption, and, ultimately, transformation. George Grinnell was one of six young men who set off on the 1955 expedition led by experienced wilderness canoeist Art Moffatt. Poorly planned and executed, the journey seemed doomed from the start. Ignoring the approaching winter, the men became entranced with the peace and beauty of the arctic in autumn. As winter closed in, they suddenly faced numbing cold and dwindling food. When the crew is swept over a waterfall, Moffatt is killed and most of the gear and emergency food supplies destroyed. Confronting freezing conditions and near starvation, the remaining crew struggled to make it back to civilization. For Grinnell, the three-month expedition was both a rite of passage and a spiritual odyssey. In the Barrens, he lost his sense of identity and what he had been conditioned to think about society and himself. Forever changed by the experience, he unsparingly describes how the expedition influenced his adult life and what powerful insights he was able to glean from this life-altering experience.
Summary and photo from, Book received free for review

My Review:
Death on the Barrens is the true story of six young men who embark on a canoe voyage over 900 miles long in the Canadian Arctic during the summer of 1955. Lost in the spirituality of the land the men allow the journey to drag on at too leisurely a pace. The group soon finds themselves low on food with winter moving in. A devastating canoe roll over leaves 5 of the men in the icy cold water. The leader freezes to death after this incident and the others are forever changed as they attempt to survive the remainder the journey.

The author was one of the men on this expedition. He tells this story with amazing poise, instantly drawing the reader in. One can almost feel the mist of the river and the bumping of the rapids, and later the cold and hunger. There is a lot of emotion caught within these pages. Add the stunning watercolors that help to break up the book and you have a true gem.

My only complaint with the book is that the author's character is quite unlikeable. He comes across as rather arrogant, at times forgetting that the story isn't solely about him. Though some of his background information was helpful I could have done without the addition of his family tree and the outline of where the family wealth came from. Luckily this unpleasantness is contained within a couple chapters that can easily be skimmed or passed over without detracting from the storyline.

Overall I would highly recommend this book, especially to those who enjoy nonfiction outdoor adventure tales. At less than 300 pages this is a quick and interesting read.

My Rating: 4 Stars

To sum it up: The true story of a peaceful canoe trip that came to a tragic end.


Momma Hunt said...

Sounds like this has some possibility. I might need to check it out

Anonymous said...

Just read it! A great read indeed!

Anonymous said...

Just read it! A great read indeed!

Anonymous said...

Current issue of Canoe and Kayak Magazine has an article about one of the other members of the group, Skip Pessl, who says that much of Grinnell's portrayal of Art Moffat is not accurate. In fact, much of book is perhaps "literary license"


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