The timing of Boundless couldn’t have been better considering the recent discovery of Sir John Franklin’s ship, the HMS Erebus, which has been missing since 1845. I’ve had my own fascination with Franklin’s lost expedition since I first learned about it and the subsequent journeys commissioned by his wife, Lady Jane Franklin. But Boundless is about the land Franklin visited and not the man and his fateful expedition.
In 2010, Kathleen Winter was invited to join a group of scientists, historians, bird enthusiasts, tourists and a Canadian musician to journey by ship through The Northwest Passage. The journey takes her from Greenland to Baffin Island and beyond, a land both beautiful and tragic where Inuit people have been displaced and struggle to preserve their native culture, and Arctic animals adjust to their slowly melting habitat. With wry humour and keen observation, she describes co-habitating on the ship with her fellow passengers, discovering the treasures of the Arctic and how the experience, much to her surprise, will probably bond her to some of these former strangers for a lifetime.
Boundless is an exquisite memoir thanks to Kathleen Winter’s ability to wholly absorb what she experiences and put into words a reality that is beyond everyday perception. Such sensitivity to her surroundings is apparent in the way she hauntingly describes places, people, and objects, and how they affected her. When something tickles her fancy or dredges up something dark and buried, it was riveting to follow the journey taking place in her mind.
Boundless is so much more than a travel memoir as Kathleen Winter’s narration is interspersed with memories, digressions in thought, facts on history or nature, and cute anecdotes that came to mind as she experienced each day. However, I began to enjoy her personal stories more than I cared about her Arctic excursion, and wasn’t sure if this was a good or bad thing.
In Boundless, Kathleen Winter doesn’t hide her feelings about Europeans encroaching on the Arctic and interfering with the lives of the indigenous people and wildlife of the region. She continues this conversation in her recent Toronto Star article regarding the discovery of Franklin’s ship.
In the book, she also doesn’t hide the fact that she’s a bit of a loner and has been searching for somewhere to belong since she was a child. She hides or runs away or chooses not to engage often during her trip, but you always catch a glimpse of her hope to find an affinity with a physical place. Boundless was such an appropriate title for this book because it not only describes how Kathleen Winter encourages the flow of her thoughts and emotions to become part of the journey, but her desire to finally find somewhere to belong.
NOTE: I received a copy of Boundless with much thanks to House of Anansi, but this in no way influenced the thoughts and opinions expressed in my review. Boundless has been shortlisted for the Hilary Weston Prize 2014.