I have waited long for the opportunity to read Christiane Ritter’s memoir from the year she spent living in a remote hunting cabin on Svalbard. I saw a copy of it ten years ago and it sounded perfect for me, but it was unfortunately only available in German. I am thus very happy that Pushkin press has decided to reprint the English translation so that I finally got to read it!
The memoir follows Christiane Ritter in the year 1934/1935 as she joins her husband and a Norwegian friend of his in a small lonely cabin in the north of Svalbard. Her husband, Hermann Ritter, is evidently already an experienced Svalbard hunter by the time she joins them but Christiane is a well-off Austrian with no Arctic experience. It seems courageous, if not outright foolish, of Hermann to ask her to join him for a full year. His Norwegian friend Karl is even convinced that “the lady from central Europe” will go off her head during the winter. However Christiane adapts to and eventually comes to love Svalbard.
It is perhaps not the most adventurous Arctic tale there is, Christiane does join on a few trips but mostly stays in the relative safety around the cabin. Even so life in the Arctic provides plenty of challenges and drama and in addition Christiane writes about the effects of darkness and isolation, of the harshness and beauty of the landscape and on how she changes in response to it. It is thus more introspective than most Arctic memoirs, which together with the fact that Christiane Ritter is a really good writer, only adds to its appeal. In some ways the it reminded me of Helge Ingstad’s East of the Great Glacier memoir, which I also thoroughly enjoyed. Although Helge Ingstad did get around a lot more, he too seemed more interested in the Arctic itself than in promoting his own accomplishments.