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TraveLit--A blog about travel literature. 

     Even with the best of maps and instruments, we can never fully chart our journeys.

Review: Empire Antarctica: Ice, Silence & Emperor Penguins

Empire Antarctica: Ice, Silence & Emperor Penguins

By Gavin Francis.  Counterpoint, 2013, 260 pp.

 

Emperor penguins are extraordinary animals, the only species to hatch their eggs on the sea ice of Antarctica.  Images of male penguins huddled together, incubating their eggs in the harsh winter—protecting them in their brood pouches, balancing them on their feet as they shuffle about in their huddle, rotating to the warmer spots in the middle—are unforgettable.

 

It was a fascination with these birds and a desire to live alongside them that led Gavin Francis to apply for a position as doctor at Halley, which is the least accessible of the British research stations in Antarctica and just twenty kilometers from a rookery where some 60,000 emperor penguins breed every autumn.

 

But there were other reasons as well.  He wanted to experience the solitude and silence the region would offer, a relief from his frenetic life in Edinburgh.  He was drawn to the stories of such legendary polar explorers as Scott, Shackleton, and Byrd.  And he hoped the time and space at Halley would help clarify his own future path: "whether to aim for a life of travel and expeditions, or commit to a profession and put down roots."

 

A chronicle of Francis's 14 months at Halley, Empire Antarctica is also the story of this personal quest.  He reflects upon the amazing landscape he inhabits, the remarkable light and, in winter, the lack of light.  He Read More 

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