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The Ice Museum: In Search of the Lost Land of Thule
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The Ice Museum: In Search of the Lost Land of Thule

3.65 of 5 stars 3.65  ·  rating details  ·  118 ratings  ·  24 reviews
A legend, a land once seen and then lost forever, Thule was a place beyond the edge of the maps, a mystery for thousands of years. And to the Nazis, Thule was an icy Eden, birthplace of Nordic "purity." In this exquisitely written narrative, Joanna Kavenna wanders in search of Thule, to Shetland, Iceland, Norway, Estonia, Greenland, and Svalbard, unearthing the philosopher ...more
ebook, 304 pages
Published January 30th 2007 by Penguin Books (first published February 2nd 2006)
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Thule is one of those mysteries of geography, like Atlantis, over which people like to argue - did it or did it not really exist? It has appeared in literature for an incredibly long time, but so much in literature has been passed down over centuries without much to back it up - like an urban legend. It seems every one wants to claim a piece of Thule, and has "origins" in Greenland, Iceland, Norway, Estonia and on and on. The author here goes on a physical journey to try to find some proof in ea ...more
I have always been a dreamer. I have always been that guy, the guy who you would always catch staring off into space, dreaming of what it would be like be somewhere else, to be in a place completely foreign and new with endless discoveries and landscapes straight out of a fantasy. In my early to mid twenties, whenever I’d envision the perfect getaway, I always imagined a place cultured and refined, a place filled with interesting history far away from all those fangled beaches where tourists guz ...more
“Some said ‘Toolay’, some said ‘Thoolay’, a very few said ‘Thool’. Poets rhymed Thule with newly, truly and unruly, but never, it seemed with drool.”

The Ice Museum: In Search of the Lost Land of Thule was far better in theory than in execution. Former journalist Joanna Kavenna (yes the same one whose book, The Birth of Love, is on this year’s Orange Prize longlist) has a fascination with Thule, which was first described by Greek explorer Pytheas, who claimed to have reached it in 4th century BC.
Hmmmm. I really thought I would eat this up, despite the mediocre reviews I kept seeing for it. It has all the elements that usually entrance me--travel, the Arctic, mystery, ancient history, a gorgeous cover (I know, I know, you're not supposed to judge)--and yet somehow it still all fell flat.

Part of the problem for me was that I couldn't quite figure out what Kavenna was trying to do here. The title implies a sort of research journey into the origins and location of Thule, but while Kavenna
Shifa khan
A legend, a land once seen and then lost forever, Thule was a place beyond the edge of the maps, a mystery for thousands of years. And to the Nazis, Thule was an icy Eden, birthplace of Nordic purity. In this exquisitely written narrative, Joanna Kavenna wanders in search of Thule, to Shetland, Iceland, Norway, Estonia, Greenland, and Svalbard, unearthing the philosophers, poets, and explorers who claimed Thule for themselves, from Richard Francis Burton to Norwegian explorer Fridtjof Nansen. Ma ...more
May 28, 2008 Christian rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Christian by: Page-A-Day Calendar
I can't help but compare this book of the frozen north to Rising Fire, which was also a travel memoir set around a topic (Volcanoes). Ice Museum does a much better job of staying within the realm of the topic itself; the author, while always present, rarely becomes a focus. And there's no new age diversions (well, unless your opinions on climate change skew in Crichton's direction).

A couple issues though. The prose can be thick sometimes, and there's really only so many ways to describe sunrises
I wanted to like this, it promised so much - the legend of Thule, history, mystery, travel and ice. All things I love. But it was rambling, directionless and repetitive. I would need to stop mid-paragraph to remind myself what the topic was when the prose got bogged down in self-indulgent, overly lyrical language. Very disappointing.
The author has provided an intriguing exploration of the northern-most tips of Europe in search of the lost kingdom of Thule. This ice-laden kingdom was first explored by Pytheas in the fourth century BC and Kavenna provides part history-part travelogue as she sets about trying to locate its exact position. Along the way the author provides both beautiful descritions of the harsh unforgiving landscapes of the Shetlands and Iceland, synopses of Grennland and Estonia society, a history of Aryan su ...more
If you have a background in environmental or place-based studies, Kavenna's conclusions will come as no surprise to you, but I was captivated by her historical research on Thule as well as by her narrative voice.

Also, she loves the natural world and adventures out into that world. Several times in MFA workshop, I was forced to listen to a group of male classmates espouse that the "problem with fiction written by women is (insert thinly veiled sexist comment here that somehow always circles arou
Normally, as my record of reviews can attest, I hate nonfiction books where a person explores an interesting concept by being a tourist and then effectively chapter-length blogs about it. This was the first time in years, however, that I did not hate this formula. Kavenna's writing is good and her passion genuine. The topic is extremely interesting and two of her chapters in particular stand out (Thule Society and Greenland). Still, this book could have been a lot more engaging with an actual sc ...more
In this book, Joanna Kavenna writes about places that are of great interest to me - Iceland, Greenland, Svalbard, and others - but in a way I frequently found off-putting. Her brief is to search for Thule, the mythical northern land of the ancients, but her musings on the Thule myth frequently prevent her from writing about the fascinating people and places that pass before her eyes. Only in the final chapter, about Svalbard, does she integrate her thoughts about Thule effectively into the narra ...more
LA Bourgeois
Apr 24, 2007 LA Bourgeois rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Exotic Travelers
Shelves: booksof2007
I picked up this book expecting an examination of the myths of Thule (which I knew nothing about) and found a travelogue along with some history, but not much about the myths. I barreled through this book as quickly as possible since I'm more interested in pop-anthropology than travelogues (I'd rather go there than read about it). However, now I know where the Thule ski racks come from, although I find I'm disturbed by the choice of the name after the whole Nazi references.
Lisa Kelsey
Oct 03, 2007 Lisa Kelsey rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: people who like travelogues
A lyrically written history and travelogue of the extreme north regions. The theme of the book centers around a search for the legendary land of Thule first written about by Greek explorer Pytheas in the fourth century BC. Interestingly, a proto-Nazi group called the Thule Society met in Munich in the twenties and thirties, discussing the supposed homeland of their Aryan ancestors. Their ideas went on to inform some of the cultural mythology of the Nazis.
Part travel narrative, part history book, part memoir. I learned so much about the Atlantis of the North and about the geography and history of the north. The book is poetically written and wastes few words. My only complaint is with the crafting of the final chapter. By making the conclusion themed around Svaldbard, Kavenna spent more time wrapping up the book than describing the Svalbard landscape, and I would have liked to read more about it.
Part travelogue, part history and fable, Kavenna's book The Ice Museum details her quest for the land of Thule. First referenced by the Romans, no one appears quite sure where Thule is and the author ends up vising Norway, Estonia, Iceland, Greenland, The Shetland Islands and Germany. Kavenna finds Thule has as many meanings as it does possible locations, from a symbol of nature to an ideology. Fascinating and unique
David R.
This one is gorgeously written: the language is almost poetry. But Kavenna is attempting some kind of travelogue in the northwest Atlantic and that mission isn't really well fulfilled. I don't know that much more about Iceland or Svalbard or any of the other "Thule" candidates, but at least the journey is somewhat spellbinding in a different way.
I skimmed the rest I'm trash but it just went on forever.
Dan Barton


oooh this is going to be a chore, the writing style has little merit so I am hanging on for some delicious factoids.

jewel #1 - Arne Naess: it's good to have another look at this man who, incidently, has moved to the edges of suburbia now - lol

jewel #2 - Burton's visit to Iceland; Auden's visit to same.
Wow this edition needed an editor. Cut, cut, cut. Would have loved it if I could have gotten through the redundant sentences.
An interesting tale of the search for Thule...especially if you've been to Iceland, Greenland, Svalbard, Norway, etc.
I love reading about cold places. I think it is hereditary.
Interesting, rather eclectic read.
Josh K.
Josh K. marked it as to-read
Jun 30, 2015
Mike Mitchell
Mike Mitchell marked it as to-read
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Dan J
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Joanna Kavenna is a prize-winning British novelist and travel writer.

Kavenna spent her childhood in Suffolk and the Midlands as well as various other parts of Britain. She has also lived in the United States, France, Germany, Scandinavia and the Baltic States.

These travels led to her first book, The Ice Museum, which was published in 2005. It was nominated for the Guardian First Book Award in that
More about Joanna Kavenna...
The Birth of Love Inglorious Come to the Edge Arc 2.2: Chromewash Letters Written During a Short Residence in Sweden, Norway and Denmark

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