One Day, One Night

Portraits of the South Pole

Non-Fiction - General
442 Pages
Reviewed on 10/14/2016
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    Book Review

Reviewed by Marta Tandori for Readers' Favorite

One Day, One Night is a fascinating recounting of a husband and wife’s very unique experience of living with 50 other human beings in a place where few of us are likely to ever venture in our lifetimes – in one of the most isolated habitats on Earth located quite literally at the bottom of the world, the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station. However, this is no subterranean work of science fiction a la Jules Verne’s classic, Journey to the Center of the Earth. One Day, One Night is a no-holds-barred recounting of one couple’s adventure living and working in some of the most extreme conditions known to mankind, in one of the most desolate places on planet Earth.

Dr. John Bird receives a voicemail informing him that Gary Swenson, his first Ph.D. supervisor, is looking for a technician for some South Pole laser experiments he’s conducting and the author, looking for a change, jumps at the opportunity. There’s one problem, though. It’ll be a year-long stint and he doesn’t want to leave Jennifer, his wife, behind. He’s later told that Raytheon Polar Services Company, the support services subcontractor for the South Pole, has jobs available but that Jennifer will need an American passport to be considered for any of them. After circumnavigating a loophole and a ton of paperwork, Jennifer secures the necessary American passport (her father had been born in the U.S. and lived there for the requisite number of years) and Raytheon hires her as a dishwasher. Jennifer needs a break from school and sets aside her music studies to take part in what is to become the experience of a lifetime. She is the first to leave for the South Pole and is immediately, and unceremoniously, put to work. John follows a short time later, and so their adventure begins…

What is particularly noteworthy about this book is the candor with which both authors tell their stories. Hopes, fears and tribulations are juxtaposed against more basic concerns as they prepare for their sojourn to the bottom of the world. Will they need to pay taxes? Are visas required? What to take and what to store? More importantly, will they have the mental stamina to survive the isolation and darkness of the very long winter? The authors hold nothing back. Once at the South Pole, survival takes on paramount importance – and not just from the harsh elements. The harsh elements, like the tempestuous weather and swirling snowstorms are many, perfectly reflected by the following passage:

“Before emerging from El-Dorm, I take extra care seaming together all of my headgear. I pull up my hood, zip up my parka to my mouth, and tug on my sleeves to seal my wrist portals. The wind lashes like millions of cracking whips. I pull my hood further down over my face. In the storm, darkness returns. I am slightly to the left of a faint red light on the Dome – a lighthouse in stormy seas. Every minute I look up to correct my course. Returning home from work, the raging continues. In faith, I set out up the hill, oft checking behind to gain my bearings until a clearing in the turbulent air unveils a ghostly El-Dorm. The moon surfaced three days ago, but it hides in the dense, driving snow, its fuzzy crescent half-materializing from time to time as it climbs and matures. Abruptly, the storm fades, unveiling the translucent azure hue of the heavens. Only the brightest stars remain as the glowing region expands into an early morning sky.”

These harsh realities are juxtaposed by awe-inspiring auroras of emerald waterfalls cascading over their station like an alien spaceship, wide filaments bouncing back upward with a smudge of dawn whispering around the horizon underneath. How can one quantify such beauty, one has to wonder. One Day, One Night gives its readers multifaceted portraits of the South Pole; the natural, the human, the divine. As the authors themselves state, it is a “place of contrasts of experiences, contrasts of emotions. The South Pole presented the opportunity to live on the limits of our natural habitat; on the limits of our emotion resources; on the limits of how we define ourselves, of how we define others.”

The perfect read for adventure junkies and those eager to read about the road less traveled.