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Friday, September 1, 2023


Finding Endurance: Shackleton, my father and a world without end by Darrel Bristow-Bovey, published by Jonathan Ball

The main thrust is human endurance, what it is and who has it, whether they are a celebrated explorer or an ordinary person. (Review by Margaret von Klemperer, courtesy of The Witness)

When Darrel Bristow-Bovey was a small boy, one of his father’s stories was that he had sailed with Sir Ernest Shackleton. He hadn’t, of course, as the explorer died before he was born, but it fired the author’s imagination. And when we are small, we believe our parents.

Much has been written about Shackleton, his expedition to attempt the first crossing of the Antarctic continent from west to east, the loss of his ship Endurance in the ice and his astonishing feat of bringing his whole crew back to safety through the most appalling conditions. And there are many retellings of how a team based on the SA Agulhas, captained by Knowledge Bengu, found the wreck of Endurance under the ice in 2022, more than a century after she sank. However, Bristow-Bovey’s book is more than just another version of the stories.

He certainly tells them, and he tells them very well. We learn about the stowaway on board, and how he was treated, and cared for, by Shackleton. We read how the polar night, six months long, can affect the human mind. The reader can almost feel the cold and the fear and comes to know the various personalities involved for, as in any group of people, there are disparate characters. The author draws the comparisons – not for the first time – between Shackleton and Scott and how their personalities affected the outcomes of their journeys – both technically failures but very different. He also tells stories from his own life, and his family, and in particular his father, and how his claim to have been with Shackleton may have come about.

But Finding Endurance is not just about Shackleton’s expedition or the finding of his ship. In fact, the part of the book that deals with actual discovery is relatively short – fascinating, but not the climax of the story. The main thrust is human endurance, what it is and who has it, whether they are a celebrated explorer or an ordinary person. There is a moving vignette of the author’s mother – a figure of great endurance.

One of the saddest aspects of Shackleton’s story is how he was never really recognised as the hero that he was, at least not in his lifetime. He returned from the Antarctic at a time when death, not survival, was the fashion as the death toll of the First World War shook humanity and could only be rationalised as heroic, whatever the truth. And he endured that, too. - Margaret von Klemperer

Finding Endurance is published by Jonathan Ball Publishers: ISBN 978-1-77619-286-1