The Antarctic Book of Cooking and Cleaning, by Wendy Trusler and Carol Devine
Review by Cat Croteau
Sometimes a book is just a book and sometimes a book is an entire experience in itself; it can cross several different senses before even being consumed by the mind. The Antarctic Book of Cooking and Cleaning is one such book. Upon receiving and opening the parcel from the authors Wendy Trusler and Carol Devine I was struck by the book’s Soviet-era textbook feel, I was instantly geeking out! For full disclosure, I’m a reader who loves to be transported to faraway lands but I’m also looking for that comforting smell, the feel of the weft of the page, the texture on the cover, and the sound of the spine as it cracks when you open the book. I crave a full body experience when I’m reading, and The Antarctic Book of Cooking and Cleaning delivered.
Part diary, part cookbook, part history lesson, part photo album wrapped in the visage of a military textbook, The Antarctic Book of Cooking and Cleaning is the story of a Russian-Canadian clean-up project in the summer of 1996 at Bellingshausen, a Russian research station in Antarctica. “The book unfolds in the style of Antarctic publications such as Sir Ernest Shackleton’s handmade Aurora Australis-through provision lists, menu plans, journals and letters. Woven through are historic and contemporary images, food notes and vignettes from Antarctica.”
Much of the book is written in short and to-the-point diary entries sprinkled with captivating photographs, from both current and past excursions to Antarctica. Trusler and Devine take turns with their entries giving the reader a glimpse into how they are individually affected by the trip and by the people they encounter along the way. There is an ebb and flow to their passages, offering details when they’re appropriate and necessary but leaving them out when more info would have been too much. Their book is a practice in reading meditation, which allows the beauty of the words to sink in. Although I’ve finished, my book has about a dozen little page markers teasing me to reread passages that resonated with me. Inevitably, I find myself carried along for a few pages before I realize I’ve been captivated again.
The first passage of The Antarctic Book of Cooking and Cleaning that really struck me is about a moment when Devine is on the boat headed for Antarctica; it’s early morning and she’s on the ship deck filled with exhilaration at seeing icebergs and blocks of ice. “I thought it might be thousands of years old and maybe I’m the only person ever who saw it in that form.” I don’t think I’m alone in having felt that uniqueness, that sense of being the first to encounter something in nature; no one has seen a snowfall like this before me, I’m the first one to witness the beauty of this peak, this sunset is just for me!
Another passage I love illustrates when Trusler is hiking with one of the groups and describing the area’s breathtaking views. She yearns to walk further, to go to the base of Flat Top, a peak in Antarctica: “Part of me always wanted to scale it, lie down on the rocks where it levels off, feel tiny and enormous at the same time—mostly I loved that it was utterly inaccessible and would stay that way,” I’m amazed at Trusler’s ability to put into words the thoughts and feelings I’ve experienced in nature and I think that, although I will never meet her, we are both very much alike.
The Antarctic Book of Cooking and Cleaning is a testament to how important it is for humankind to work together and that no matter how much we think we matter, humans are in fact such a small part of the whole. As Devine so aptly summed up, “In Antarctica, everything is stripped down. You have what you have and even less of that materially. It is only who you are and what you do that counts…Our expedition’s hardships on King George Island were few but our opportunities to see humanity at its best were many-from the bottom, looking up.”
Cat Croteau is an avid hiker, yogi, and mom to 4. Currently residing in South Dakota with her soul mate, Cat loves exploring the Black Hills with a baby on her hip and her family by her side.