FEL Member Book Review

“Boundless: Tracing Land and Dream in A New Northwest Passage” by Kathleen Winter (Non-Fiction)

Review submitted by Chris Walton, FEL Treasurer

This is a fascinating present-day memoir told by the author who, in her 50s, decides to take a voyage on a small ship from Greenland through the Northwest Passage.  Taking place above the Arctic Circle, Kathleen explores islands and villages in western Greenland, and along the Northwest Passage. Along the way, she experiences the local Inuit peoples, icebergs, grizzly bears, the graves of past explorers, and vast wilderness. At the end of the voyage they run the ship aground in uncharted waters and have to be rescued. This small ship has an unusual group of passengers including geologists, historians, musicians, writers, and artists. Kathleen explores the personalities of many of these interesting people.

This book is more than an adventure through the waters of the Arctic. The author blends her observations related to the environment, British colonialism, exploration history, wilderness experiences, and life in extremely rural villages. She shares her own amazing life experiences and challenges. These include her early life in England, her emigration to remote Newfoundland as her father seeks his freedom, and her wild vagabond youthful years in Europe. She describes these experiences and observations in a poetic narrative that is extremely well written. Following is a passage as she speaks of the landing on a remote Arctic island:

I walked onshore, the land lay like a dreaming body whose dream emanated, brushed against me, and infused my body. Its eloquence and message remained quiet and mysterious as our ship approached. I couldn’t believe we were really about to walk upon the blue, white, and gold vision itself. It seemed impossible but was not impossible. I’d been given the key to enter, to lie down and listen, to breathe its exhalations and hear it speak, and nobody does this without being changed.

Boundless is a book that is difficult to define in one or two words. It is philosophical, poetic, and full of mystery. The author brings up so many things about our world and life worthy of pondering that I was compelled to read the book twice (something I rarely do). I was personally drawn to this book because when my wife and I were in our fifties (like the author), we quit our jobs and spent weeks camping in a tent above the Arctic Circle.  The way the author speaks of the Inuit people, the water, the sky, and the wilderness, spoke to me in a personal way.    

My book score: 6 (on a personal scale of 1 – 6)