Antarctica is not so much a destination as a symptom in this intense, disturbing memoir of a wickedly unpleasant childhood. Novelist Diski (Monkey’s Uncle, 1995 etc.) doesn’t like to travel, doesn’t like breaks in routine—“indolence has always been my most essential quality”—but an undeniable urge to visit Antarctica swept her along. What draws her is the land’s white oblivion, the solitude and stillness, where little distracts the eye from the emptiness. There is safety in that blank reality and its unbroken whiteness, the same safety Diski found in the white hospital sheets that swaddled her during an extended stay at a psychiatric hospital, where a bout of bone-cracking depression sent her. As she makes her tetchy way south, she reveals a dismal childhood with wretched parents, episodes of abandonment and running away and attempted suicide. It’s hard to imagine a more miserable experience and easy to understand why Diski never saw her mother again after she was 19 years old. Now Diski’s daughter wants to discover her grandmother’s fate, which sends Diski pawing through the ashes—and sailing to Antarctica. Her observations of her shipmates and the landscape are by turns droll, acidic, and closely detailed, the writing is spare, her intelligence bright and quirky. She visits outposts that are pearls of desolation, marvels at the ghostly passing of icebergs, and, always the resistant traveler, even considers not going ashore when the boat reaches its goal: “It’s not the arriving but the not-arriving . . . it’s not the seeing of the whales, but the possibility of choosing not to see them.” Been there, haven’t done that. “I wanted to be unavailable and in that place without the pain. I still want it. It is colored white and filled with a singing silence.” Diski’s Antarctica-of-the-mind is such a place.