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Cherry: A Life of Apsley Cherry-Garrard [Hardcover]

Sara Wheeler
4.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)

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Book Description

8 Nov 2001
Apsley Cherry-Garrard (1886-1959) was one of the youngest members of Captain Scott's final expedition to the Antarctic. Cherry, despite his short sight, undertook an epic journey in the Antarctic winter to collect the eggs of the Emperor penguin. The temperature fell to 70 degrees below zero, it was dark all the time, his teeth shatterd in the cold and the tent blew away. "But we kept our tempers," Cherry wrote, "even with God". After serving in World War I, Cherry was invalided home, and with the encouragement of his neighbour, Bernard Shaw, he wrote about his adventures in "The Worst Journey in the World". This book freed Scott's story from the shackles of its period, and since its publication in 1922, the bitter brilliance and elegiac melancholy of Cherry's prose has touched the hearts of thousands of readers. In his work, Cherry transformed tragedy and grief into something fine. But he was to find that life is more complicated than literature, and as the years unravelled he faced a terrible struggle against depression, breakdown and despair, haunted by the possibility that he could have saved Scott and his companions.

Product details

  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Jonathan Cape Ltd; First Edition edition (8 Nov 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0224050044
  • ISBN-13: 978-0224050043
  • Product Dimensions: 23.4 x 15.8 x 3.4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 392,544 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Amazon Review

Cherry indicates that Sara Wheeler's love affair with Antarctica shows no signs of diminishing. After the success of Terra Incognita, her story of seven months in the Antarctic, she has now turned her attentions to a biography of Apsley Cherry-Garrard, one of the surviving members of Scott's ill-starred South Pole expedition and the author of one of the few truly enduring works of Polar literature, The Worst Journey in the World. Wheeler's achievement here is to transcend her subject's limitations to search for his nobility of spirit. The portrait that emerges is of a man tortured by his internal contradictions. Cherry-Garrard was a conservative of the old school, a gentleman amateur brought up to believe in the divine right of the aristocracy. But this view was shot through with a curious modernism; much as he deplored the ever-growing demands of the working class, he still recognised their right to a better quality of life. Similarly, he found himself out of step with many of his class over the futility of the war, and yet he suffered from guilt and anxiety over his inability to participate due to invalidity.

The Worst Journey in the World was his crowning moment. Where most Polar books focused on the practicalities of sledging rations, Cherry-Garrard looked beyond that into the souls of the explorers. It was an approach that has guaranteed his place in literature, but it cost him dear. Throughout his life, he was riddled with doubts about the part he played. Should he have disobeyed Scott's orders and taken supplies further south? And had he done so would the Polar party have survived. Likewise, his desire to tell the truth about the failings of the expedition was counterbalanced by his sense of loyalty. Ultimately, too, one suspects it was his inability to resolve all these ongoing conflicts that made it so hard for him to maintain lasting relationships with women until much later in life and contributed to the severe depression that dogged his middle and old age. If one wants to find fault with Cherry, it is in Wheeler's fundamentalist approach to her art. She praises Cherry-Garrard for the scope of his own work, yet limits herself to her sources. Inevitably this means that his early life is glossed over, but perhaps more importantly she sometimes denies herself the opportunities to speculate about states of mind or to make connections the reader is crying out for her to make. But maybe, she would argue that the point is better made when the reader does the work. Either way, this is a fine book. There is a growing market for Polar literature and much of what is being published is either a rehash of other people's work or mediocre. Cherry is neither, and Wheeler can rest easy that this book can take its place alongside the 1921 tome that inspired it. --John Crace


'... brilliantly communicates the icy spell that holds her, and held Cherry, in its frozen grip' -- Observer, November 4, 2001

'Accomplishes what only the best biographies can' -- The Times, October 24, 2001

'Beautiful ... written with unfailing eloquence and grace, and great admiration for its subject' -- Independent, November 10, 2001

'Brilliantly succeeds not only in bringing this modest man disarmingly to life but also in recreating the England of his time ...' -- Sunday Telegraph, November 11, 2001

'Superb' -- Guardian, November 10, 2001

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First Sentence
In the restless years of middle age Cherry used to sit in the bow-window of his library, turning the pages of the journals he had kept in the Antartic three decades before. Read the first page
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
By A Customer
Some time ago I readApsley Cherry-Garrard's 'The Worst Journey in the World'. It became one of my favourite travel books, but left me wanting to know more about the man who wrote it. The book's forward, written by Paul Theroux, mentioned that Cherry-Garrard never had a biography written about him. This was my call to action, that I, who had not written anything more demanding than a shopping list for years, would write that biography. Sadly for me but thankfully for the literary world, Sara Wheeler beat me to it. In 'Cherry', her first biography, she uncovers the life of a man who never quite fitted in, who was more of a mass of contradictions than than most people. He was landed gentry at a time when their power was waning, a Victorian in outlook whilst living in the 20th century, a shy,anxious man who bought his way into an Antarctic expedition where anxiety-provoking situations were presumably relatively common. Sara Wheeler has dug deep to get under the skin of Cherry-Garrard and it is obvious that despite his indifference and/or hatred of children, socialists and vicars, there are parts of his personality that are likeable, and that the author likes him and communicates that warmth to us. It is also plain to see her warm (?) feelings towards the Antarctic and her empathy with the conditions that Cherry and his comrades had to endure. It ws no surprise to learn that she had spent 7 months there herself. As well as laying bare the internal tensions within Cherry-Garrard, Wheeler also explores and exposes the tensions within Scott's last expedition itself, and the various alliancies and difficulties between it's members, both during the expedition and even for years afterwards, difficulties that were heavily suppressed by an establishment that needed heroes, not human beings. To summarise, this is a well researched, very readable book about a kind, dreadfully anxious but brave and fascinating man.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
By A Customer
Before you read Sara Wheeler's gripping biography, I recommend you read "The Worst Journey in the World" written by Apsley Cherry-Garrard. Only then will you be totally prepared for Wheeler's deep and moving account. Her final page indeed sums up the whole feeling of the book, where she summarises how the world moved on after the war and space age came but Cherry was "...out of step with the times." As statements go this is no ordinary throw away final line, it captures the intense feelings and mis-understanding of a world that had gone completely wrecked in the eyes of this great polar and charming man. The effects of two world events in the early 20th century, "Titanic" and "Polar Exploration," of which Cherry-Garrard was party to the latter, has seemed to haunt a closed Victorian/Edwardian era and never really to be awaken again. But this biography unlocks a special but tragic time and the emmense aftermath of those that were left behind at its curtain call. In a sense, this portrait shoulders Cherry-Garrard as hero which indeed he was. His authoritive outpouring resulting in "The Worst Journey" could never be written again in either style or comment. The sadness is that both his beautiful spirit and redeeming soul always seemed lost forever after the fatal last Polar Expedition by Scott and his fellows. What is clear is Cherry-Garrard's whole respect for his commrades, which is a quality seriously rare and lacking in today's world. Again, the biography confirms that characteristics such as gracious conduct, position, and stature in people of his time also drew to a close after the Wars and only remains in Cherry-Garrard's world. Read more ›
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An Excellent Journey Through An Interesting Life 5 July 2004
I have always thought that The Worst Journey in the World as being the be all and end all of Polar writing. What Sara Wheeler has managed to do is look behind the words and produce one of the best biographies written.
Apsley Cherry-Garrard was, without doubt, a man of intense complexity and this comes over well in the book. The decline of the man reflects the decline of the society he knew and the passage of time is handled well as Wheeler tells the reader what is happening in the world outside Lamer.
Could Scott and his party been saved? It is unlikely, but Wheeler manages to remain unjudgemental - she tells the story of the ill fated trip without becoming jingoistic.
I finished the book with an intense desire to visit not only the Antarctic but also the area around Wheathampstead where much of the book is set.
Buy this book!!
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A man of contradictions 2 July 2003
Sara Wheeler's biography of Cherry-Garrard is a wonderfully written account of a man who epitomises a lost era of British exploration. His own account of his South journey on Scott's ultimately doomed polar expedition, The Worst Journey in the World, is one of the greatest non-fiction books I have ever read. Anyone who has read and enjoyed his book cannot fail to be moved by the man himself and wonder at how the author of such a masterpiece could only have written a single book. Wheeler explores this paradox and in so doing uncovers the story of a remarkable man. Cherry-Garrard was clearly a strange mixture of the true blue and the curmudgeon: the strength, courage, passion and friendship he showed in the South counterpointed by his slow descent into depression and isolation in later life. Perhaps not surprisingly, the reminder of Cherry's life could never quite live up to the idealism and heroism of his adventures in the South. Wheeler's prose is breathtaking in places, losing nothing in comparison with many of the great writers she quotes and she does a beautiful job of bringing Cherry-Garrard to life. A fascinating read regardless of your level of interest in polar exploration.
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