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Expeditionen: Min kärlekshistoria Bea Uusma, Expeditionen: Min kärlekshistoria (The Expedition: My Love Story)

Norstedts,  2013.

Reviewed by Kristina Sjögren in SBR 2014:1

Review Section: Non-Fiction


1897: Engineer Salomon August Andrée  and his two young colleagues Nils  Strindberg and Knut Fraenkel take off  towards the North Pole in a hydrogen  balloon. They disappear. In 1930, their  remains are found on the uninhabited,  ice-bound island of Kvitøya or White  Island. Andrée’s diary reveals that they  died within two weeks of each other.  Many books have been written about the  expedition but so far no one has been  able to prove the causes of death.

1997: Bea Uusma, a young Swedish  doctor, becomes obsessed with the  Andrée expedition. She starts spending  most of her free time researching its  fate and decides to try solving the riddle.  The result is her book Expeditionen: En  kärlekshistoria, which won the prestigious  non-fiction August Prize in 2013.

Uusma has done extensive research  and dug deep into all the background  documentation, including information  about clothing and bodily remains.  She travelled to the North Pole seven  times. She has researched the families of  Andrée, Strindberg and Fraenkel, taking  a special interest in Strindberg’s fiancée  Anna Charlier. Uusma so desperately  wants to know how they died that she  suspects this wish formed part of her  decision to study medicine.

After several years of research, things  start happening. In the Andrée Museum,  Uusma finds a pair of Strindberg’s longjohns that no one has examined before,  then goes on to locate three of André’s  nails inside a glove and the remains of the  expedition’s medicine supply. These finds  make it possible for Uusma to eliminate  several earlier theories and speculations  about the deaths of the three men. She  manages to fund her own expedition to  the Arctic to try to go ashore on the  White Island again and finally makes it  after three unsuccessful attempts. It is an  unusually warm summer, and the hostile  pack ice around White Island disappears  for a few days.

Expeditionen… is an extraordinary  crossover between history, autobiography  and fiction. It is a non-fiction book  about a spectacularly unsuccessful Polar  expedition, with detailed, professional  research into the events, research that  overthrows older theories and gives new  answers to what happened. It is also an  autobiographical narrative about Uusma  and her passionate dedication to the  task of solving the mystery. Reading her  description of herself as a comfort-loving  person who hates the cold, one cannot  but empathise. A married woman and a  mother, she finds it hard to spend time  away from her family in museums and on  her travels. At the same time the design  of the narrative reads like crime fiction  and is equally exciting. 

Bea Uusma has written a non-fiction  text, incorporated some of her own life  into it, and given it the form of a thriller.  The layout of the text mirrors this, with  different fonts for the extracts from the  diaries and letters of the expedition  members, the parts about how Uusma  conducted her research and the results  of it. The book contains drawings and  tables, also in a special format. 

I must admit that, although I found the  book slightly nerdy in all its detail, all its  passion, I could not put it down. It is a  page turner!


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