A Young Man’s Extraordinary Adventure to Antarctica
Another Nonfiction Book Club selection, this one was selected for my new Antarctica-loving friend, Lenore!
From the Back Cover:
It was 1928: a time of illicit booze, of Gatsby and Babe Ruth, of freewheeling fun. The Great War was over and American optimism was higher than the stock market. What better moment to launch an expedition to Antarctica, the planet’s final frontier?
Everyone wanted in on the adventure. Rockefellers and Vanderbilts begged to be taken along as mess boys, and newspapers across the globe covered the planning’s every stage. And then, the night before the expedition’s flagship set off, Billy Gawronski – a mischievous, first-generation New York City high schooler desperate to escape a dreary future in the family upholstery business – jumped into the Hudson River and snuck aboard. Could he get away with it?
From the soda shops of New York’s Lower East Side to the dance halls of sultry Francophone Tahiti, all the way to Antarctica’s blinding white and deadly freeze, Laurie Gwen Shapiro’s The Stowaway takes you on the unforgettable voyage of a plucky young stowaway who became a Jazz Age celebrity, a mascot for an up-by-your-bootstraps era.
I was so excited to read The Stowaway – it sounded like such a fun adventure: kid stows away on a trip to Antarctica during the Jazz Age and Prohibition? Yes please! I love the 1920s, I love the flappers, I love everything about Gatsby-era NYC. But, as seems to be the case with my last few books and reviews, I found the synopsis just didn’t deliver as promised.
Don’t get me wrong, The Stowaway is a fun book – the story of our determined young man who doesn’t even think far enough ahead to bring a change of clothes when he swims to the frigid-water-bound-sailboat, would have been better suited to a long form article, perhaps in The Atlantic or another magazine structured for the form. At just about 200 pages, it felt like mostly filler of what was an otherwise unremarkable life (I’ve already forgotten our main subject’s name, Billy, I think?)
What promises to be an adventure of exploration is really only 25-30 pages in Antarctica, the rest of the book focuses on the journey (and the attractive and loose women encountered on said journey), and our wayward teenagers life before and after the expedition. While many of the others who sailed with Captain Byrd and were of note have already either a, written their tale, or b, been the subject of a biography, Billy’s story has ample material because of the detailed scrapbooks his mother kept throughout his life, as well as he correspondence with them from the journey.
The journey of one young man to Antarctica, who was kicked off of the expedition multiple times before finally being allowed to stay, has all the promise of a good book (and film material), but alas, I just don’t think there was enough to Billy’s life and story to warrant a full book about him and his singular act of rebellion and adventure.
Rating: 6 out of 10 stars