THE FRIGID MISTRESS by George A. Doumani


Life and Exploration in Antarctica
Email this review


A latecomer in the recent spate of books on the history of Antarctic exploration—and one that disproves the adage “Better late than never.” Doumani has enjoyed a long and apparently distinguished career as a scientist working for several departments of the federal government. He is not, sadly, a writer, and his fragmentary account of fieldwork during the International Geophysical Year of 1958 reads more like a grandfatherly holiday letter than a book. Doumani’s attention is resolutely fixed on unremarkable moments (—In flight the passengers were ordered to change into cold weather gear, and the many layers of long thermal underwear, outer pants and parkas made it necessary to expand the seat belt considerably—) and the quotidian details of eating (—breakfast usually consisted of . . . fried eggs in several scrambled styles—), sleeping (—I managed to go to sleep for a few hours, and was up again to catch up on my letter reading—), and bathing (—Then came the greatest of Antarctic luxuries—the hot shower!—). Not that Doumani does not exult in his surroundings; he studs his text with exclamation marks to signify his excitement (—There it is!” “What a sight!” “It was literally shocking!” “In my panic I forgot all about the rope!” “They simply don—t give a damn!” “We had filet mignon!—) at the thrills, dangers, and rewards of scientific discovery in a place that, he reminds us constantly, is cold all the time. That datum is about all there is to learn in these relentlessly dull pages. Readers interested in good writing to go along with their armchair travel are advised to turn to Douglas Mawson’s Home of the Blizzard and Richard Byrd’s Alone.

Pub Date: May 1st, 1999
ISBN: 1-56167-476-1
Page count: 288pp
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15th, 1999