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Harris, MacDonald - The Balloonist

    This book was first published in 1976, but swiftly receded to obscurity. Thankfully, it miraculously resuscitated in 2011, bringing a new wave of attention and praise to MacDonald Harris's most well-known and celebrated novel. Far from just a humdrum book on exploration, The Balloonist is wickedly funny and exquisitely written.
    The story bases itself around Gustav Crispin, a Swedish explorer. With the most modern mechanism available, a hot-air balloon, he sets out to accomplish the impossible and become the first man to reach the North Pole. This task forces him to submit himself to the ruthless powers of nature, with only the unreliable winds to bring him back to civilization. His resolute goal, though, is quickly overshadowed by his obsession with the Parisian Luisa. Despite his best efforts to despise her, Gustav soon becomes enamored with her mysterious and daring personality. As the Polar expedition continues, Gustav begins to relive his relationship with Luisa piece by piece. His memory of her begins to captivate him far more than the adventure he has risked his life for.
    The plot meanders through one of the most fascinating periods in Paris's history, la Belle Epoque. The dynamism of the city is at first a stark contrast to Gustav's steely character, but he eventually gives in to its charm and temptations. Luisa, a product of Paris's multiculturalism and brazenness, attracts in almost exactly the same way, forcing him to abandon his preconceptions and pretensions about himself.
    Not content with being simply a great read, The Balloonist challenges man's  arrogant dominion over nature, which is bound to crumble under close inspection. This book is the perfect balance between philosophy and fiction, entertainment and contemplation; simply a must-read.
Matteo Cavelier

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