Wheeler, Sara 1961-
WHEELER, Sara 1961-
PERSONAL: Born March 20, 1961, in Bristol, England. Education: Brasenose College, Oxford University, B.A. (honors), 1984.
ADDRESSES: Agent—Gillon Aitkin, c/o Aitkin & Stone, 29 Fernshaw Rd., London SW10 OT9, England.
CAREER: Travel writer and frequent contributor to BBC (British Broadcasting Company) Radio; writer in residence, U.S. Polar Program, 1995.
MEMBER: Fellow of the Royal Geographic Society.
AWARDS, HONORS: Shortlisted for Travel Book of the Year, 1996, and finalist for Thomas Cook Award, both for Travels in a Thin Country; Terra Incognita: Travels in Antarctica chosen by Beryl Bainbridge, Daily Mail, as one of the best books of 1998, also chosen one of Seattle Times's top ten travel books of the year.
An Island Apart: Travels in Evia, Little, Brown (London, England), 1992, paperback edition, Abacus (London, England), 1993.
Travels in a Thin Country: A Journey through Chile, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1994, Abacus (London, England), 1995, paperback edition, Modern Library (New York, NY), 1999.
Antarctica, the Falklands & South Georgia, Cadogan (London, England), 1997.
(Editor, with Dea Birkett) Amazonian: The Penguin Book of Women's New Travel Writing, Penguin (London, England), 1998.
Terra Incognita: Travels in Antarctica, Jonathan Cape (London, England), 1996, U.S. edition, Random House (New York, NY), 1998, paperback edition, Modern Library (New York, NY), 1999.
Greetings from Antarctica (children's book, with illustrations by the author), Peter Bedrick Books (New York, NY), 1999.
Cherry: A Life of Apsley Cherry-Garrard, Jonathan Cape (London, England), 2001, Random House (New York, NY), 2002.
Author of a BBC Radio documentary about the Antarctic titled The Big White; reviewer of travel books for newspapers in the United States and the United Kingdom.
SIDELIGHTS: Travel writer Sara Wheeler has written several books based on her visits to various parts of the world. An Island Apart: Travels in Evia details her journey to the Greek island of Evia and into its culture. A Greek scholar, Wheeler managed to successfully explore most of the island—even the hinterlands, where civilization has yet to invade and where most tourists do not visit. Her fluency in Greek gained her access to households, and she even received the honor of serving as a godmother to a newborn infant. In her book, Wheeler provides readers with insight into the Greek persona through such disarming displays as when villagers find it humorous when a donkey is struck by lightning. According to Frederic Raphael, writing in the Times Literary Supplement, Wheeler is "unusually forthright on the selfishness and cruelties of the Greeks, and on their sometimes dismaying sense of humor." While Raphael admired both Wheeler's tireless pursuit to find ruins and her evident knowledge of the subject, he remarked that her writing style was "full of cliches." Overall, however, the reviewer found Wheeler's look into the island of Evia "intimidatingly seductive."
According to New Statesman reviewer Tony Gould, Wheeler's adaptability and refusal to take "no" for an answer yields fine results in Travels in a Thin Country. The book details her exploration through Chile, from the northern deserts to the very southernmost tip, a part of the country she obviously favors. Wheeler has all manner of experiences in Chile and takes full advantage of just about any opportunity for travel journalism. She manages to stay at a deluxe family hacienda, teams up for three days with three policemen at a remote forest outpost, and unknowingly is given a free air travel ticket because an official finds her "pretty." Wheeler, according to Gould, is adaptable enough to make the most of each situation and also able to bear it when she spends long periods of time alone. Politically, much is taking place in Chile during Wheeler's travels—the aftermath of the fall of a dictatorship, growing poverty and despair in the slums, and a concern with national identity—and Wheeler provides some political context in the form of history (a description of the Chilean emergence from Spanish rule in the 1800s). Gould called the work "a perceptive and entertaining account of a littleknown country." However, a Times Literary Supplement contributor called Wheeler's observations "banal" and concluded that the reader is "none the wiser" about Chile after reading the book.
Wheeler's next travels, funded in part by the National Science Foundation and the British Antarctic Survey, produced the best-selling work Terra Incognita: Travels in Antartica. Wheeler spent seven months in Antarctica, living with the male inhabitants of the region's scientific research stations. Not only does she provide overtones of her own spirituality and how it is affected by the otherworldly terrain, but she gives insight into the day-to-day life of the Antarctic researchers. According to Erik Stokstad of the New Scientist, Wheeler does not seem interested in the actual research being carried out at stations, which includes studies on ozone depletion as well as studies of organisms in penguin vomit that may indicate life on Mars. Instead, Wheeler describes the "seedy bars, practical jokes, and tedium that are all features of days in the frozen vastness." Wheeler also pays due respect to the many Antarctic expeditions in history. Lucretia Stewart, writing for the Times Literary Supplement, found Wheeler's "nostalgic affection genuine and moving." Stokstad commented that Terra Incognita could leave the reader "out in the cold." However, Observer contributor Cressida Connolly called the work "funny, informative, touching, and candid." Michiko Kakutani, writing in the New York Times Book Review, stated that Wheeler "zeroes in on the people who have charted and continue to chart the region's stark and unforgiving terrain." A Publishers Weekly reviewer concluded that "Wheeler writes elegantly and movingly about the unearthly landscape and its effects."
Wheeler once told CA, "Antarctica, the subject of my book Terra Incognita, was the culmination of many other destinations. I found it was the perfect tabula rasa. Through it I was able to reach further into the psychic landscape: the most foreign country of them all."
Wheeler's acclaimed biography of an Antarctic adventurer, Cherry: A Life of Apsley Cherry-Garrard, received abundant praise from reviewers. The young privileged Englishman known as "Cherry" was sent to meet the ill-fated Robert Scott expedition returning from the South Pole in February 1912, but Scott and his men—two of whom were Cherry's best friends—froze to death just twelve miles away, before Cherry could find them. After the Antarctic winter had passed, ten months later, Cherry and a search party found their bodies inside a tent. The discovery represented a national tragedy for England. After Cherry returned home to his estate, he began a downward decline in health, tormented by depression and guilt over what he might have done to prevent the expedition's disastrous ending. After ten years of introspection, encouraged by his friend and neighbor George Bernard Shaw, he wrote a book about the two-year expedition. It includes the story of a five-week excursion to Cape Crozier in 1911, in which he and the two friends who later died with Scott went in search of the eggs of emperor penguins for scientific study. He titled his book The Worst Journey in the World after the egg-hunting journey, in which he and his friends nearly succumbed in the minus-75-degree temperatures of the frozen Antarctic. Cherry's book is considered one of the top adventure books of all time. Wheeler drew on his book, on Cherry's journals and those of other members of the expedition, and on interviews with his widow to construct her biography.
A writer for [email protected] wrote, "Wheeler's biography brings to life this great hero . . . and gives us a glimpse of the terrible human cost of his adventures." Jay Freeman of Booklist commented that Cherry "examines the man and his times with credibility." Caroline Alexander, writing in the New York Times Book Review, also praised Wheeler's biography, saying, "one turns from her biography back to Cherry's own work with renewed, not undiminished, relish," adding that "her book, beautifully written throughout, takes fire in the Antarctic chapters, where irresistible forces converge." Philip Hensher writing in Spectator concluded: "If there is not a great deal to say about the last 30 years of [Cherry's] life, at least Sara Wheeler tells it with evident affection and admiration; she clearly loves her subject deeply. The polar material . . . gains here from a biographer who knows the Antartic extremely well, and can tell us with feeling exactly what it is like to stand in a wind-chill factor of minus 115 degrees."
Wheeler once told CA:"I write narrative travel books. I try to lead the reader by the hand through the landscapes I observe. I try to travel inward as well as outward, back as well as forward."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, March 15, 2002, Jay Freeman, review of Cherry: A Life of Apsley Cherry-Garrard, p. 1206.
Book World, July 18, 1999, reviews of Travels in a Thin Country: A Journey through Chile and Terra Incognita: Travels in Antarctica, p. 10.
Children's Bookwatch, June, 1999, review of Greetings from Antarctica, p. 1.
Globe and Mail (London), April 17, 1999, review of Travels in a Thin Country, p. D16.
Kirkus Reviews, June 15, 1999, review of Greetings from Antarctica, p. 971; January 15, 2002, review of Cherry, p. 96.
New Scientist, September 21, 1996, Eric Stokstad, review of Terra Incognita, p. 54.
New Statesman, January 28, 1994, Tony Gould, review of Travels in a Thin Country, p. 39.
New York Times Book Review, March 17, 1998; May 9, 1999, Michiko Kakutani, review of Terra Incognita, p. 42; June 6, 1999, review of Travels in a Thin Country, p. 29; May 5, 2002, Caroline Alexander, "The Best Fellows in the World," review of Cherry, Late Edition, Section 7, p. 10.
Observer, October 6, 1996, Cressida Connolly, review of Terra Incognita, p. 18.
Publishers Weekly, February 23, 1998, review of Terra Incognita; June 7, 1999, review of Greetings from Antarctica, p. 84; March 18, 2002, review of Cherry, p. 90.
School Library Journal, August, 1999, review of Greetings from Antarctica, p. 151.
Science Books and Films, September, 1999, review of Greetings from Antarctica, p. 223.
Spectator, November 3, 2001, Philip Hensher, review of Cherry, p. 48.
Times Literary Supplement (London), July 31, 1992, Frederic Raphael, review of An Island Apart: Travels in Evia, p. 10; March 4, 1994, review of Travels in a Thin Country, p. 28; December 13, 1996, Lucretia Stewart, review of Terra Incognita, p. 30; February 22, 2002, Jonathan Dore, "Blaming the Weather," review of Cherry, p. 5.