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

3.61  ·  Rating Details ·  165 Ratings  ·  30 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
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.
Aug 27, 2011 Erik rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
May 29, 2013 Gwynne rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
LA Bourgeois
Apr 24, 2007 LA Bourgeois rated it liked it  ·  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.
Dec 10, 2016 Katie rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
This book was not at all what I had expected, but I still enjoyed it. The author has a beautiful writing style. I loved her adventures in far northern countries. Part of her search for Thule led her to a pre-Nazi society in Germany that had little to do with the legendary land of Thule. It was a rather jarring chapter in the middle of the book. The author admits to this but still for some reason includes it in the book. Despite this, the book was an enjoyable read.
Cathy Graham
This started slowly, confusing me with a chapter called Forward and there were times when I thought it was just a slog. Beautifully written but just how many northern sunsets can one read about? Then it began to worm itself into my consciousness and by the time Kavenna reached Finland I was gripped. I had to send away for The Kalevala! The chapters on Estonia, Greenland and Svalbard, I found particularly interesting. It's a quiet book but one I feel I will think about in the months to come.
Mar 23, 2011 Sharlene rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction, 2011
“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.
Jess Neuner
Thule is a place of legend, similar to Atlantis, or Shangi-La. Pytheas wrote of a northern island with a midnight sun, surrounded by a frozen sea, a mist-filled land of 'endless splendour' that ever since no one has been able to find, but has been romanticised through centuries of literature. Several features of Thule (pronounced Toolay, not like it rhymes with drool, as the author helpfully points out) are characteristics of several places, including Iceland and Svalbard, but no one place has a ...more
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
Jul 11, 2013 Shifa khan rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 liked it  ·  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
Aug 16, 2015 Steve rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Low 4. 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 A ...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
I love this style of memoir where the unravelling of an obsession becomes a treasure hunt, where time for the author seems to dip away and the "problem" of finding an answer or conclusion is tantamount to the machinations of everyday life, to breathing itself. This book is a history lesson on cold. Smack in the middle of an actual Summer in San Francisco where it has been Hot for real, reading a chapter every morning was a replacement for the air conditioning that houses here lack. I want Kavenn ...more
Jun 25, 2015 Christopher rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
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
Sep 29, 2016 Nate rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Had to give up a little over halfway through. Essentially just a self-congratulatory travel journal, bordering at times on a boring-as-shit autobiography.

Her 'search for Thule' merely involves reciting the accounts of others who actually put effort into their explorations. Oh, and sometimes she'll ask the opinion of someone on the street trying to go about their day. Spoiler alert: they never have anything interesting to contribute.

Spoiler alert: neither does she.

2/10 because she's at least poi
Lisa Kelsey
Jan 01, 2016 Lisa Kelsey rated it liked it  ·  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.
Jun 14, 2011 jen8998 rated it really liked 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
Apr 15, 2014 Kirstin rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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.
David R.
Dec 25, 2011 David R. rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: travel
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 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.
Dan Barton
Feb 07, 2012 Dan Barton rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history


Feb 22, 2009 Abbey rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Wow this edition needed an editor. Cut, cut, cut. Would have loved it if I could have gotten through the redundant sentences.
Susan Vibrant
I love travel writing and the Arctic, but there were niggles in the author's writing style that I couldn't get past. Gave up!
Jan 06, 2008 Itsbecka rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
An interesting tale of the search for Thule...especially if you've been to Iceland, Greenland, Svalbard, Norway, etc.
Robin rated it it was amazing
May 06, 2008
Kylie rated it it was amazing
May 05, 2011
Kate rated it really liked it
Nov 29, 2016
VeganMedusa rated it liked it
Sep 22, 2010
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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...

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