Welcome to the Goddamn Ice Cube
* * I got to interview the author for Alma. Read here: Meet Blair Braverman: Jewish Dogsled Racer, Writer, and Overall Badass
Blair Braverman's memoir Welcome to the Goddamn Ice Cube (subtitled "Chasing Fear and Finding Home in the Great White North") is part love letter to dogsledding, part travelogue of an American in Norway, and part memoir of a woman grappling with the aftermath of sexual violence. Yet as one review writes, "no description would get at root of this book, which is about gender and violence and belonging, but most of all about being human and learning to live—and trust oneself—in world where things aren’t always safe.”
As a senior in high school, Blair does an exchange term in Norway where the father of the homestay family she is placed with touches her inappropriately. She returns to Norway, to attend a folk school, where she learns to dog sled and confront her fear of the place (from her traumatic homestay experience). She goes to work as a tour guide in Alaska, leading tourists on dog sleds, where she enters into an abusive relationship. She returns to Norway again and ends up working with an old Norwegian man at his store in north Norway. These timelines all overlap and weave together magically.
"Theirs was the Norway of witchcraft, storytelling and incest, not minimalist furniture and the Nobel Peace Prize."
The way she writes about the outdoors, about dogs, about her friendship with the shopkeeper... it is so lyrical, evocative; It made me legitimately feel cold and scared. Blair's perseverance and strength is inspiring. It's about making space for women in the "hard masculinity" of the north (by the north she means: the Arctic, the outdoors, rural Norway, glaciers, etc. Everywhere she finds herself near the Arctic region).
As the NYT writes, "As both a storyteller and a stylist, Braverman is remarkably skilled, with a keen sense of visceral detail...that borders on sublime. But her ability to draw readers into heart-pounding action sequences — from the “perfect wave” of a sled dog team bounding across the snow to the disorienting rotor wash of tourist helicopters in a whiteout — is what makes the book so courageous and original as both a travel narrative and a memoir of self-discovery."
And many passages made me smile. Like when she was in Mortenhals (the northern Norway town she spends a lot of time in), she writes: "the enthusiastic German organist arranged for me to lead an Ask-a-Jew session for the fifth-graders at Sand School who, along with their teachers, had never seen a Jew before." Also, her twitter is fantastic and filled with pictures of dogs:
Her love for dogsledding shines through:
I have never loved anything as hard and as fast as I loved these dogs, as I loved dogsledding itself. I could have watched them for hours. I could have watched them forever. They ran like water, and I was part of it, and I was struck with the instant and undeniable thought that I had finally come to the place that I had spent my life trying to find. Right here, of course it was here, in the Arctic, in Norway, between the gray mass of the fjord and the sharp snowy mountains, at the top of the turning world. It was almost too much to acknowledge. It was hard to trust the fact of my body in this place. But here were the dogs, pulling me, proving it.
Blair is a talented writer, has a passion for the cold (which I don't understand but I respect), and her story is an important tale of gender and violence in the outdoors. And the resilience of one woman. A must read.
(It's $2 on kindle right now! And $6 paperback! GO: http://amzn.to/2DwVMIB)