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The Voyage of the Narwhal

In The Voyage of the Narwhal, a richly researched fictional tale of a perilous 1855 expedition to the Arctic, Andrea Barrett deftly charts the Victorian mania for discovery, the competitiveness among explorers, and the moral ambiguities of ”greatness.” Glamorous and willful, twentysomething Narwhal commander Zeke Voorhees leaves his fianceé behind to seek glory by tracking down the lost John Franklin (a real-life Arctic explorer); ambitious but failure-prone naturalist Erasmus Wells grudgingly accompanies his future brother-in-law. Betrayals abound as the two men confront icebergs, scurvy, frostbite, and suspicious Esquimau. Despite the disappointingly pat finale, Barrett (a National Book Award winner for Ship Fever) masterfully navigates the waters of envy and egotism. A-

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