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A Woman in the Polar Night (1938)

de Christiane Ritter

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1077205,100 (4.52)7
For most of us, the Arctic conjures up images of freezing and forsaken solitude. Hence, Austrian painter Christiane Ritter was at best ambivalent when her husband asked her to join him on the small Arctic island of Spitsbergen in a tarpaulin-covered hut sixty miles from the nearest neighbor. Yet his descriptions were filled not with cold and hardship but tales of remarkable wildlife, alluring light shows, and treks over water and ice. Won over, Ritter joined her husband and grew to love life on this small isle off Norway's coast, and in this charming memoir she describes her experiences, with insight and wry humor. Whether or not you ever plan a trip to the Arctic, A Woman in the Polar Night offers thoughtful reflections on isolation and the place the natural world holds in the human psyche.… (més)
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This is a different style of memoir than modern memoirs, less about the author and more about her experiences. She lets the reader know what she's thinking without paragraphs of analysis and navel-gazing. While some descriptions were opaque to me, overall Ritter paints a vivid and compelling picture of life in the Arctic. ( )
  ImperfectCJ | May 26, 2021 |
A Woman in the Polar Night is my favorite read of 2019. First published in 1938, its most recent incarnation is a pretty paperback published by Pushkin Press in mid-November 2019. Author Christiane Ritter was an Austrian artist who wrote of the year she lived in a remote, polar region of Finland (Svalbard) with her husband Hermann. I'm thankful to Jane Degras for this English translation.

Christiane's memoir shimmers with painterly descriptions of the bleak and ethereal polar landscape that enchanted her and Hermann. So many of Christiane's passages are quotable that I'm tempted to fill my review with them, but I think it better to let readers discover these treasures for themselves. Well, maybe just one: The whole sky is deep lilac, lightening into a tender cobalt blue at the horizon, over the sea of ice. From the east a pale-yellow brightness spreads, and the frozen sea, reflecting the heavenly colours, shines like an immense opal. Where sea and land meet, and where the tidal water thrusts through to the surface around the heavy masses of ice, the colours of the sky are reflected as brightly as in a mirror. I love it when an author describes a landscape so vividly that I can "see" it. Christiane's drawings are scattered throughout the book, and in the back of the book are photos of Christiane, Hermann, and the hut they lived in.

Christiane told of her adventures, venturing out with her husband and being left on her own for weeks at a time. Her stories impressed me with the extreme isolation and danger of the arctic climate, where physical and psychic survival is critical and miscalculations could mean losing your life or your mind. She reflected on the beauty of living simply, in harmony with nature, and the unnecessary excesses of European society. Her reflections are as relevant today as they were when she wrote them, nearly a hundred years ago.

Christiane Ritter was a hardy woman who lived to the age of 103. An example of her art is here: http://www.polarstern-ag.de/zitate/ritterbild.jpg.

I bought the paperback from Amazon. Yup, I bought a book. I pre-ordered it actually, and waited impatiently when its release was delayed. ( )
  Linda_Louise | Jan 20, 2021 |
Een vrouw in de poolnacht door Christiane Ritter

Zo blij dat dit boek eindelijk ook in het Nederlands te verkrijgen is! Christina reist in de zomer van 1934 haar man, die als onderzoeker op Spitsbergen verblijft, achterna. Samen met hem en Karl, een Noorse jager, verblijft ze een jaar in een hut, ver weg van alles en iedereen. Dit boek is haar persoonlijke verhaal, aangevuld met kleine tekeningen die ze zelf maakte.

Sinds de eerste verschijning in 1938 is dit reisverhaal voortdurend te krijgen geweest in Duitslan. Blij dat dit boek mee kan liften op de golf van populariteit die tegenwoordig rond ‘wild’ boeken hangt. Waar er eerst grotendeels verhalen verschenen van mannen beginnen er nu meer en meer parels van vrouwen op te duiken en dat juich ik toe.

Voor de mannen in die tijd was overwinteren op de Noordpool al een hels karwei, een avontuur enkel weggelegd voor ‘afwijkenden’; voor een vrouw viel (en valt nog steeds) zo een avontuur helemaal buiten de sociaal aanvaarde conventies. En dat maakt haar verhaal, zeker omdat het zich in 1934 afspeelde, zo immens indrukwekkend.

Ik moest er even inkomen, haar schrijfstijl is (in het begin) ietwat stijf maar al snel werd ik helemaal meegesleept en las het boek vlot en verslavend weg. Hoewel het tegendraads klinkt (vlot lezen en stoppen) heb ik het boek ook vaak even neergelegd, zinnen opnieuw gelezen. De natuur die Christiane zo beeldig beschrijft is zo overweldigend en zo anders dan wat wij kennen dat ik alles diep in mij wou laten doordringen. Als de mannen gaan jagen blijft Ritter vaak dagen, weken alleen in de hut, dat alleen zijn (en daar is alleen echt alleen) sijpelt door in haar gedachten, blik en schrijven. Dat maakt dit verslag nog levendiger en nog origineler. Ik had mij nooit kunnen voorstellen dat iets wat zo donker, zo wit is, ook zo gelaagd kan zijn en zo veel kleur kan bevatten. Hoewel ik een enorme koukleum ben heb ik nu heimwee naar een wereld die ik enkel op papier heb gekend. Als er morgen iemand langskomt die mij meeneemt naar de Noordpool dan vertrek ik, direct. Dat is te danken aan Christiane die op een heel eerlijke, informatieve manier immens afzien tot iets moois kan verheffen. Mensen die hebben meegemaakt wat zij heeft meegemaakt worden nooit meer wie zo ooit geweest zijn en dat is jaloersmakend. Naast een boeiend verslag over een wereld zo ver van de onze is dit ook een dagboek dat treffend mensen en hun interacties in een kleine wereld beschouwt én bovenal is het een verhaal vol liefde. Liefde voor een plek, liefde voor de natuur met al haar inwoners en liefde voor elkaar. Zonder één seconde romantiek is dit toch één van de meest romantische verhalen die ik ooit las. Wow. ( )
  Els04 | Feb 15, 2019 |
‘’Νο, the Arctic does not yield its secret for the price of a ship’s ticket. You must live through the long night, the storms, and the destruction of human pride. You must have gazed in the deadness of all things to grasp their livingness. In the return of light, in the magic of the ice, in the life-truths of animals obsessed in the wilderness...lies the secret of the Arctic and the overpowering beauty of its lands.’’

I live in a country where the sun always finds a way to shine its light on us, even during the bleakest wintry days. Most normal people consider this a blessing. Me, on the other hand, being the weirdo that I am, I hate it with a vengeance. I just can’t stand sunshine and heat. When I had the opportunity to visit Finland a few years ago, I experienced the winter night and it was one of the most fascinating and happiest moments of my life. I mean, give me darkness and cold and I am a happy camper. I am also mad, but that’s okay. Still, nothing and noone can possibly prepare you for the circumstances Christiane Ritter describes in her beautiful book.

What a striking title...A beautiful cover and a fascinating woman who, despite all the odds, defied conventions, ignored every risk and followed her husband to an expedition in Svalbard, right in the heart of the Arctic. Christiane Ritter, an Austrian painter who died in 2000 at the age of 103, travelled to Norway in 1934 and found a land of immense beauty, silent and primal. Her account of the year she spent in Svalbard is a beautiful homage to the special landscape of the Arctic, a land that I often call ‘’a planet within a planet’’.

‘’The conflict between the weakening light of day and the triumphing light of the moon creates bewildering contrasts in the very clear, violently bleak landscape. New scenes appear whenever the sky lightens.’’

This book contains treasure found in each page. Chrissie’s descriptions of the preparations for the coming winter, the hunting, the animals that used to be completely unknown to her, the magnificence of the fjords are fascinating but nothing compares to the chapters dedicated to the fortvilelse of the polar night, the enchantment, the bewildering and threatening glory of the night that never ends. She describes the last moment before the sun sets and the waiting for the darkness that will last for months in a chilling way, so vivid and almost ominous that brought chills even in a rather warm and humid Athenian May evening. The smoke that clinged on the floor and walls of the hut, the black landscape lit only by the whimsical starlight, Karl’s songs in the silence of the everlasting night...What setting could be more striking?

‘’Don’t go for walks alone’’, says Karl. ‘’It’s a dangerous time. Seven weeks before Christmas the graves in Svalband open.’’

It is to be expected that my favourite parts are the ones dedicated to the beautiful, mystical Norwegian folklore. Ritter narrates Karl’s stories and the legends told by the sailormen and it is no surprise that most of them are related to death and the spirits of the dead. What kind of stories could be born in a land where the long night reigns, where the shadows acquire an otherworldly colour under the glorious veil of the Aurora Borealis…

This is a haunting, beautiful account. It’s not a dry log book. Far from it. Ritter included dialogues which made the reading experience even more interesting and direct and I felt I was reading a novel of the finest quality. It is a calm, grounded narration from an immensely brave, considerate, determined woman, a striking personality who fell in love with the most beautiful spot of our planet. It is a pity she wasn’t allowed to return there...If you aren’t already in love with the Arctic and its enchantments, then this book will definitely help you come a little closer to the never-ending magic of the polar nights…

‘’...the world out-of-doors falls into deepest night. The mountains are no more than white shadows, the sea no more than a black shadow- until that too dissolves away. And then everything is dead.’’

My reviews can also be found on https://theopinionatedreaderblog.wordpress.com ( )
1 vota AmaliaGavea | Jul 15, 2018 |
A true classic of polar literature. Ritter is both witty and profound as she describes her one year in an isolated hut in Spitsbergen with her husband and another hunter. The opening chapters are especially amusing, as she discovered the harshness of her home for the coming year and the nonchalance of her husband over the various shortcomings of the place. Her descriptions of the polar winter are truly enchanting, and make me long to give it a try myself. ( )
  bness2 | May 23, 2017 |
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Christiane Ritterautor primaritotes les edicionscalculat
Degras, JaneTraductorautor secundarialgunes edicionsconfirmat
Wheeler, SaraPròlegautor secundarialgunes edicionsconfirmat
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Wie verschieden sind die Erlebnisse in der Arktis. Man kann morden und fressen, man kann rechnen und messen, man kann verrückt werden in Einsamkeit und Grauen, man kann aber sicher auch verrückt werden vor Begeisterung über allzuviel Schönheit. Sicherlich wird man aber niemals in der Arktis etwas anderes erleben als das, was man selbst in sie hineingetragen hat. (S.89).
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For most of us, the Arctic conjures up images of freezing and forsaken solitude. Hence, Austrian painter Christiane Ritter was at best ambivalent when her husband asked her to join him on the small Arctic island of Spitsbergen in a tarpaulin-covered hut sixty miles from the nearest neighbor. Yet his descriptions were filled not with cold and hardship but tales of remarkable wildlife, alluring light shows, and treks over water and ice. Won over, Ritter joined her husband and grew to love life on this small isle off Norway's coast, and in this charming memoir she describes her experiences, with insight and wry humor. Whether or not you ever plan a trip to the Arctic, A Woman in the Polar Night offers thoughtful reflections on isolation and the place the natural world holds in the human psyche.

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