Cold Coast by Robyn Mundy
July, 1932: It is high summer up in the Arctic Circle and the widow Ivanna ‘Wanny’ Woldstad is the only female taxi driver in the Norwegian town of Tromsø. When she picks up seasoned trapper Anders Sæterdal from a bar, she has a proposition for him: he needs a partner for the winter season up north, and she’s an exceptionally good shot. Initially resistant, Anders agrees, and the pair make their way up to the fierce, stark splendour of Svalbard. The two fall into a daily rhythm, preparing for the long night of winter, when the trapping of polar foxes and bears truly begins. They train their dogs, hunt seals and ptarmigans for food, even make their own sourdough starter. Slowly, a mutual respect develops, but Wanny is a woman of many secrets, and this winter will be harsher than any she has known. Meanwhile, in alternating chapters, a little arctic fox kit – the runt of her litter with a rare coat of blue fur – learns to make her way in the treacherous yet beautiful mountains of Svalbard.
Cold Coast is a gripping fictionalised account of the real Wanny Woldstad’s first journey to Svalbard in 1932–33. Woldstad was the first female trapper and hunter – fangskvinne – and her determination and grit are brought to life with eagle-eyed detail here by Robyn Mundy, who has spent years working as a seasonal tour guide in Svalbard and north-east Greenland. Mundy’s experience is evident on every page of this book. Her evocations of this awe-inspiring landscape and its harsh conditions are so real, you truly feel like you’ve stepped through a wardrobe into a world turned blue by the polar winter. The brutality of trapping is handled honestly (there is a lot of blood in this novel) and Wanny’s issues as the first woman to navigate this hermetically sealed world of men are sensitively explored.
‘Why Svalbard?’ Wanny is asked early in the novel. ‘Because it is a place of stories … of snowstorms, of dangers and battles … It leaves me with a longing.’ Well, this novel has all of that, and it will leave you with that very same yearning to visit these far-flung places. There is a magic and mystery to the isolated reaches of our world, and Mundy has bottled up its icy wonder for us to savour this summer.