A book that changed my life is A Woman in the Polar Night by Christiane Ritter. It is her memoir of her journey and year spent in Spitsbergen (Svalbard) in 1934 with her husband. She writes of her life in a tiny bleak hut where her life is paired down to the simplest of tasks, scrubbing the cabin, chopping logs for the stove, and where a cup of rationed coffee is an event to be revered and sipped in quiet contemplation. She writes of the foreboding landscape that is bleak, dark and harsh and the pure joy she experiences when, after a long winter, the sun appears. She writes of spending months alone, surviving storms that battle with the hut, and of crawling on all fours twenty times round the hut to get her daily walk. She knows she must. On her journey to Svalbard she is told by the manager of the telegraph station: “Madam, if you want to survive the winter well you must remember three things … you must take a walk every day, even in the winter night and storms. That is as important as eating and drinking. Always good temper. Never take things seriously. Never worry. Then it will be fine.”
I read this in March 2020 when all our worlds turned upside down. I sought solace in books that would take me to distant places. I could travel without leaving the house, escaping somewhere, whilst our worlds and lives became smaller. I took comfort in Christiane’s resilience and determination, thought of the simplicity of her life and her life being stripped back to basics. It was a calming read, her words comforting and helpful. I remembered the Telegraph Station Manager's words and, even though anxious and scared of what was happening all around us, I took a walk every day and found joy in the simplest of things and revered my daily cup of coffee.
About the reviewer
Katie Sone is a writer and delivers writing for wellbeing workshops. She is also a part time librarian for Leicester Libraries. You can find out more here.
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