Friday, July 22, 2011

My Father, Sandy, by Nicholas Wollaston

My Father, Sandy is a memoir of A. F. R. "Sandy" Wollaston, an explorer noted for trips to Africa, New Guinea, and Mount Everest, by his son, Nicholas Wollaston, who due to his father's murder grew up without him. Sandy Wollaston lived a life on the move, and his travels take him around the world. After a trip to Lapland, he decides on a medical career so that he will have useful skills for exploring expeditions. Though he hates his profession, it does seem to work as an entry into world exploration. I find it interesting that Sandy Wollaston has become closely associated with the Ruwenzori Mountains, the Carstensz Range, and Everest, and yet he never made any of their summits (though he came awfully close in the first two). If you happen to have read the collected Letters and Diaries of A. F. R. Wollaston, you'll realize just how poignant Nicholas Wollaston's book actually is. Nearly everything that the author remembers about his father comes from his father's writing.

There were a couple exceptions, however. He has a hazy memory of his father from when he was a small boy, some things his mother told him about his father, and also a couple remembrances from his father's friends. There is very little to add the Everest story in this book. Sandy Wollaston was a member of the 1921 Everest reconnaissance, as doctor, naturalist, and botanist. Pretty much everything in this book comes straight from his diaries and letters or the expedition account. I could be wrong, but I believe I read in this work a couple of critical remarks that were edited out of his published writings. Nothing terribly controversial, however! Notably regarding the New Guinea trip, a friend of Wollaston's remembered his telling the friend that he was led out of the forest at the very edge of survival by a mysterious doppelganger.  

My Father, Sandy probably adds most to the story of the explorer's "retirement" to academic life and a family in England. Nicholas Wollaston writes about his parents' blissful couple years living together in the English countryside, and then his father's accepting a tutoring post at King's College, which meant that he was away most of the time again. Two weeks after his family's move to Cambridge to be with his father, Nicholas' father was murdered by a troubled student. Nicholas Wollaston was four years old.

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