In the Arctic summer, the sun shines even at midnight. So it was bright as the airship Italia approached the geographic North Pole, motoring at 3,000 feet above the endless pack ice. Below the ship, a thick bank of fog obscured the frozen Arctic Ocean, but up here the sky was blue, cloudless. A pair of officers used a sextant and the sun to measure the Italia’s position as they covered the final miles, and when they’d reached 90 degrees north, where the planet’s longitude lines converge at the pole, the helmsman began a slow, lazy circle around their goal. General Umberto Nobile, the airship’s commander, gave the order to dive under the fog, and soon the airmen could see the blank ice, fewer than 500 feet below them. They had made it.
When I first saw the title of the book tweeted out, my initial thought was the story was going to be a science fiction story. After spending the majority of my childhood and a good portion of my adult years in the Yukon, I had heard plenty of tales about northern living and the Arctic, but never anything as wild as what is written in this short book. I still didn’t believe it would be true when I first read the name Umberto Nobile, so I looked it up on Wikipedia quickly, book in hand. Sure enough, he existed, and the whole story is factual.
Researched and written by Eva Holland, the story is about Umberto Nobile flying a zeppelin to the Arctic from Italy at the urging of Mussolini. Things go awry and the crew become stranded in the frozen north. It took quite a bit of effort to get a team together to attempt a rescue, which had Roald Amundsen become involved. Amundsen was the Norwegian explorer who first reached the South Pole, among other achievements. Taking place in 1928, the story became headlines not only in Europe but in the NY Times.
The story is around 50 pages, which makes for a very quick read. I found it enthralling- and would have finished it in one sitting if I hadn’t decided to start it close to midnight. It’s the perfect Sunday morning read with a cup of coffee in hand, costing less than a cup of coffee.
On another note, Eva Holland has quickly turned into one of my favourite writers today, and likely becoming one of the best modern writers to ever write about the North. I’ve been following her for several years now. She travels around quite a bit so her stories have a nice variety to them. One of her latest pieces is about a mountain climbing race in Alaska, Mount Marathon Is the Toughest 5K on the Planet. Another story I quite enjoyed was her profile of the Dirtbag Queen, Kel Sax, a mineral explorer near Faro, Yukon. And, I can’t leave out her profile of my high school friend who helped build the trend of Stand-Up Paddleboarding in the Yukon, Stand-Up Rises Up.
Mussolini’s Arctic Airship is currently available as a Kindle Single for $2.00 on Amazon.
[Quick update: also see this interview with Eva Holland at CBC]