Disappointment River : finding and losing the Northwest Passage / Brian Castner.

Main Author: Castner, Brian,
Published: Toronto, Ontario : McClelland & Stewart, 2018, ©2018.
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Review by Booklist Review

In 1789, Scottish explorer Alexander Mackenzie set out to search for a waterway in what is now Canada that connected Great Slave Lake, then the outer limit of the fur trade in which Mackenzie was engaged, to the Pacific Ocean and thence, China. Castner (All the Ways We Kill and Die, 2016) set out to replicate Mackenzie's journey, which he ably recounts as he describes his own adventure paddling the length of the Deh Cho (an indigenous name for the Mackenzie River) to its mouth at the Arctic Ocean. Readers learn how things worked out for Castner as he and his companions descend the river, sometimes with the current, often against storm-whipped waves. Castner candidly admits how uncomfortable and exhausting it all was. Mackenzie also recorded arduous conditions endured by his party, which included a native guide named Awgeenah, who was instrumental to the expedition, which Mackenzie regarded as a failure, calling the waterway Disappointment River. Appealing on both historical and contemporary levels, Castner's work will please readers fascinated by tales of discovery.--Taylor, Gilbert Copyright 2018 Booklist

From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission.
Review by Publisher's Weekly Review

Memoirist and Iraq vet Castner (All the Ways We Kill and Die) blends stories of his own travels in Canada's far north with an exhilarating historical narrative set in the area in the late 18th century. In 2016, Castner set out to paddle the 1,124 miles of the Mackenzie River in Canada's Northwest Territories, retracing the route taken by Alexander Mackenzie in 1789. A prominent fur trader, Mackenzie hoped to discover the fabled Northwest Passage and thereby secure the rich markets of East Asia. Guided by an incomplete map, Mackenzie pushed his group of voyageurs and native Chipewyans through intense privation into Arctic latitudes previously unknown to Europeans. Over two centuries later, Castner finds indigenous cultures negotiating the dangers, and opportunities, of modernity and climate change. Yet despite the buildup along the banks, the vast river Mackenzie named Disappointment retains both its dangers and majesty. Of the alternating accounts, the fur trader's is more gripping, as Castner evokes vivid personalities and drama from the archives (at one point, to stave off loneliness, Mackenzie "trudged the forty miles through the snow for a glass of wine and dinner with Roderic," his cousin and fellow adventurer). The author's own reasons for embracing such intense physical misery remain unclear, and the themes of global warming and Native American resilience are left underdeveloped. Nevertheless, Castner is an engaged narrator and writes from a visceral connection to the natural world, describing insect swarms and whitewater spills. Historians and armchair travelers alike will be equally pleased with this volume. (Mar.) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
Review by Library Journal Review

When Scottish explorer Alexander Mackenzie set out to survey the length of a river through northwestern Canada in 1789, he was searching for the fabled Northwest Passage. The long voyage was fraught with challenges and ultimately proved that the river ended in the icebound Arctic Ocean, was unnavigable for commercial purposes, and therefore, a disappointment. More than 200 years later, author Castner follows Mackenzie's 1,100-mile journey down the Deh Cho, the indigenous name for the Mackenzie River. In alternating chapters, Castner relates Mackenzie's preparation and voyage with his own. While Castner does not offer any new biographical sources about Mackenzie, he demonstrates a deft use of primary materials along with an eye for detail and storytelling to paint vivid pictures of the people he meets, his fellow paddlers (there were four), and the river. Castner identified seven plagues of the Deh Cho that Mackenzie likely experienced: heat, cold, wind, tempest, bugs, timelessness, and emptiness. VERDICT The narrative shines when Castner describes his time on the Deh Cho, creating a more sympathetic understanding of the difficulties of Mackenzie's voyage. For readers who enjoy modern adventures placed within historical context.-Margaret Atwater-Singer, Univ. of Evansville Lib., IN © Copyright 2018. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

(c) Copyright Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.