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True north Welcome to the Goddamn Ice Cube'

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Memoir offers a story of self-discovery in the lands of ice and snow

The quest to discover where we truly belong can be an arduous one. So many people spend countless months and years striving to figure out just who they want to be. It's a journey that can prove to be daunting, surprising, rewarding and terrifying sometimes all at the same time.

That is the journey laid out by Blair Braverman in 'Welcome to the Goddamn Ice Cube: Chasing Fear and Finding Home in the Great White North' (Ecco, $25.99). It's the story of a young woman whose inner compass continually pointed north, to the lands of ice and snow; places where environmental hostility and overarching masculinity conspired to create an inhospitable domain for an inexperienced woman.

Places in which Braverman was determined to surviveand thrive.

From a young age, the California-born Braverman knew that her destiny lay somewhere in the north. She lived there briefly with her parents at 10 and had an ill-fated run as an exchange student at 16. While still a teenager, she made her way to multiple isolated outposts she was an exchange student in Norway, where she also spent time at a folk school a school devoted to teaching the traditions of Norwegian outdoor life; things like dogsledding and wilderness techniques.

She also spent time as a tour guide atop an Alaskan glacier, a place where she found what she thought was love and turned out to be something much less. She learned much about the care and maintenance of sled dogs while also providing cheerful assistance to a variety of tour groups. She went to college (Colby College, to be exact) and asked herself the hard questions and ultimately found that she still needed the North.

Much of the story takes place in the small Norwegian town of Mortenhals, an isolated hamlet where Braverman fell in with an aged shopkeeper named Arild. Slowly, she becomes a part of the fabric of the town, assisting Arild with his work at the shop and helping him with a project aimed at maintaining a connection to the history and traditions of the place.

As she bounces back and forth through space and time, the threads of her identity spin together. The reader bears witness as she battles through obstacles external and internal alike in an effort to become the version of herself that she truly wants to be.

'Welcome to the Goddamn Ice Cube' is a stunning piece of work. Braverman lays herself bare, exposing all of her desires, her insecurities and her triumphs in a compulsively readable tangle of raw nerves, brutal honesty, self-deprecation and biting wit. She allows room for not just her inner strength, but her doubts and fears as well, striking a balance that brings her story into vivid focus.

The landscape is a constant presence throughout; Braverman renders her environments with such meticulous detail and loving language that they are essentially characters in their own right (and primary characters at that). We are deposited onto the snow and ice right alongside Braverman; we suffer alongside her and cheer her triumphs. Her victories and defeats are ours. Her broad and celebratory spirit shines through on every page; truthfully, this combination of compelling storytelling and beautiful prose reaches heights to which every memoir should aspire.

'Welcome to the Goddamn Ice Cube' is a chilly breeze blown across a snowy field, a cup of coffee shared around a tiny table on a frigid morning, a full-tilt dogsled ride that is both dangerous and under control. It is a grizzled shopkeeper and a scorned lover and a woman who is far stronger than even she understands. It is sharp and smart and poignant and wildly funny and just plain wild.

And last but not least it is an absolutely phenomenal book.

Fans of adventure writing, fans of autobiographical writing hell, fans of GOOD writing all will be rewarded for embarking on the journey that Blair Braverman has laid before them.

Last modified on Wednesday, 13 July 2016 12:33

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