Disarmingly captivating memoir of an Englishman's coming-of-age among the Inuit of the Canadian Arctic in the 1930s.
In notable contrast to the usual memoirs of polar experiences, in which one man tells of pitting himself against the elements in a vast stretch of empty landscape, Maurice, who died in 2003, recalls his years in the frozen North as being marked most by his relationships with the locals. The youngest son of a large family of limited means, Maurice joined up with the Hudson's Bay Company in 1930 at age 16, largely to ensure his room and board at the height of the Great Depression. Although fraternization was not officially sanctioned by his employer, it was tolerated, and the pressures of survival in such isolation led Maurice to become ever closer to the small bands of Inuit hunters and their families, who would set up camp near the trading posts. In this utterly fascinating tale, Maurice recalls his time among the Inuit people (he stayed till 1939), learning about their culture and social structures, gradually becoming their peer. Unfailingly modest, Maurice relates these stories of a mostly lost world in remarkably clear and detailed prose. Local relationships, family interactions, battles against illness, trading customs and the many types of hunts—all are illuminated by this eminently likable narrator, who, unlike most of his coworkers, took the time to learn the language and ways of his hosts. And a good thing it was, since disease killed off most of the hunters one year, and Maurice became responsible for hunting enough game to keep himself, and the other survivors, alive. Delightful moments of absurdity—the popularity of Snow White as a campfire story, the flirting that terrified the innocent teenager—round out this tale of survival.
A wholly fascinating, evocative glimpse of a harsh, lost world.