Apsley Cherry-Garrard was one of the youngest members of Robert Falcon Scott’s legendary expedition to Antarctica, the last man sent out to meet Captain Scott and his men in February 1912, when they were expected to return victorious any day from the South Pole. He embarked on his own epic journey into the Antarctic winter to collect eggs of the Emperor penguin. It was dark all the time, his teeth shattered, and the tent blew away in the cold. “But we kept our tempers,” he wrote, “even with God.”
After serving in the First World War, with zealous encouragement from his neighbor George Bernard Shaw, Cherry wrote the undisputed masterpiece of polar literature, The Worst Journey in the World. But as the years progressed, he faced a terrible struggle against depression and despair. Sara Wheeler’s Cherry is the first biography of this great hero of Antarctic exploration, written with unrestricted access to his papers and with the full cooperation of his family.
In a richly detailed and lyrical biography, Wheeler (Terra Incognito) traces the life of British adventurer Apsley Cherry-Garrard from his time as "a small boy with a lively imagination and a taste for snails and solitude" to his participation in Robert Scott's fateful 1911 expedition to reach the South Pole. While many have questioned and even vilified the members of Scott's voyage for everything from na vet to outright blundering, Wheeler takes a sympathetic, even reverent attitude toward her subject. Cherry-Garrard unfolds as a complicated figure whose youthful quest for adventure enmeshed him in an undertaking that towered over the rest of his life. While it would be hard for any historical account to rival Cherry-Garrard's own descriptions in his memoir The Worst Journey in the World, Wheeler tells the story of the entire voyage, whereas Cherry-Garrard focused on only one part of it. Though she quotes often from his book, the passages are complemented and occasionally contradicted by the journals of other members of the trip. In this way, Wheeler supplies the little facts that truly make her story vivid, like one explorer almost being killed by a 500-pound crate of hams propelled by a blizzard wind or another suggesting a can opener to cut through Cherry-Garrard's frozen clothes. Eloquent and gripping, Wheeler goes on to chronicle Cherry-Garrard's troubled homecoming and how, through writing his book and finding love late in life, the explorer made his ultimate discovery redemption.
If you want to read this book because you are an Antarctic enthusiast, I highly recommend it. It is a comprehensive biography of the other 71 years of this author/explorer's life.
If you want to read this book to enjoy the history of polar exploration or to be titillated by a rollicking good yarn from this heroic age, this book is not for you.
Many men who achieved immortality in the polar regions during this era returned to "civilization" and had difficulty reintegrating. This is the very depressing story of one such man rather brilliantly detailed.