Ada Blackjack: A True Story of Survival in the Arctic

by Jennifer Niven | Biographies & Memoirs |
ISBN: 0786868635 Global Overview for this book
Registered by wingGoryDetailswing of Nashua, New Hampshire USA on 7/19/2012
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4 journalers for this copy...
Journal Entry 1 by wingGoryDetailswing from Nashua, New Hampshire USA on Thursday, July 19, 2012
I got this fair-condition hardcover at the Used Book Superstore, to add to my list of Arctic-exploration books. This one's unusual in that, of the five-person party that went to try and set up a base on Wrangel Island, off the north coast of Russia, the only survivor was the 20-something Inuit woman Ada Blackjack, who not only survived all the men but stayed alive on the island for two years... [One of the men in the party had been in the crew of the Karluk, surviving that doomed voyage, as described in Niven's book The Ice Master.]

The whole story of this expedition seems to weird to be true. Vilhjalmur Stefansson, the man who'd organized the Karluk expedition (and was suspected by some of the other survivors of having deliberately left the ship on a hunting trip to avoid being trapped in the ice) decided that he could claim Wrangel Island for Canada or Great Britain (even though it was pretty clearly a Russian possession) if he could land a group that would winter over and form a community. He chose his team in a rather whimsical manner, claiming to have sifted thousands of applications where in reality he'd pretty much chosen the first four guys he saw. He didn't accompany them, and provided very little in the way of guidance, and - according to this book, anyway - he sounds like a con man of the first water...

The book shifts between the expedition plans and the backgrounds of the Wrangel Island party, focusing primarily on Ada Blackjack herself. She had a rather difficult life, having two children die young and the third with a chronic illness, not to mention a husband who abandoned her and considerable financial difficulties. She was hired for the expedition as seamstress (keeping the winter clothing, tents, sledge-harnesses, etc. in order was a major requirement), but she was reluctant to go - she was terrified of polar bears, and didn't want to be away from her family for that long either. She was told there would be other native families on the expedition so she wouldn't be the only woman OR the only native, and eventually this - and the money, which was more than she'd have been able to earn any other way - convinced her.

And then she found herself on the island with no other native families at all, just the four men. At first the whole situation terrified her so much that she underwent a kind of "Arctic psychosis", behaving oddly, refusing to work or communicate, wandering off from camp (despite her terror)... The men had no idea how to cope with this situation, an alternately hysterical and near-catatonic woman who wouldn't even perform the simplest tasks; their methods of dealing with her sound pretty awful, but in the circumstances it may have saved her life, and eventually she got over the cabin fever or whatever it was, and took up her needle and her role in the expedition.

But the whole thing was ill-planned, and the island a desperately difficult place to live without proper training (and not that easy even for experts in Arctic survival). And it was swarming with polar bears, which meant that they had to be on the alert at all times. The first winter they managed to cope moderately well, but when the season turned and there was no relief party, they began to get worried. [Episodes such as the Karluk survivor's visit to their old camp-site - complete with the graves of those who hadn't survived - did little to improve the mood.] And when one of their number began to sicken, they decided that someone would have to try and go for help... Three men left, leaving the ill man behind with Ada to tend him, but they were never heard of again, and when the sick man died, Blackjack had to fend for herself...

While some accounts describe Blackjack's ordeal as "two years as a castaway", in fact she spent most of those two years as part of the team; it was only the last couple of months in which she was entirely alone. Still, to be by one's self on a barren Arctic island swarming with polar bears, and with dwindling supplies, is not a very cheerful situation.

Rescue did arrive, and Ada became something of a celebrity for a time; the book goes into this part of her life too, with more ups and downs in store for her. Sadly, the founder of the expedition - and instigator of so many tragedies - was never brought to book for them; some people are just too slippery, I guess...

Journal Entry 2 by wingGoryDetailswing at Nashua, New Hampshire USA on Thursday, December 06, 2012

Released 6 yrs ago (12/6/2012 UTC) at Nashua, New Hampshire USA

CONTROLLED RELEASE NOTES:

I'm adding this book to the Rescue bookbox, which will be on its way to its next stop with BCer hyphen8 in Hawaii today.

Journal Entry 3 by winghyphen8wing at Honolulu, Hawaii USA on Monday, January 14, 2013
Sounds like a good one - taken from chefcrossing's Rescue-themed bookbox with thanks!

Journal Entry 4 by winghyphen8wing at Honolulu, Hawaii USA on Thursday, May 16, 2013
I knew this had come from a box, but I couldn't remember which one - I thought maybe it was the Medicine Chest based on the detailed description of the effects of scurvy (Reading that made me want to get up and go have a vitamin C tablet or six, immediately.) Ewww.

Fascinating & frustrating: I agree that Vilhjalmur Stefansson (born William Stephenson) sounds like a slippery character. At the very least, expecting a group of people to live off the land by hunting but not making sure they knew how to shoot, hunt, & trap beforehand doesn't seem very responsible. Today the disaster that was the Wrangel Island expedition would have "lawsuit" written all over it. :(

Journal Entry 5 by winghyphen8wing at Honolulu, Hawaii USA on Friday, May 17, 2013

Released 6 yrs ago (5/16/2013 UTC) at Honolulu, Hawaii USA

CONTROLLED RELEASE NOTES:

Headed out in Erishkigal's Native American bookbox - go book, go!

Journal Entry 6 by AlterEgoZoe at Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania USA on Saturday, June 15, 2013
Took out of the N.American bookbox

Journal Entry 7 by AlterEgoZoe at ESU in East Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania USA on Sunday, March 30, 2014

Released 5 yrs ago (3/30/2014 UTC) at ESU in East Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania USA

WILD RELEASE NOTES:

Left in one of the cubbies outside of the C-Store. For the 2014 Oh the Places We Go challenge.

When he looked up again Tas had gone. Rising to join the others, he caught sight of something small and abandoned on the floor. "Tas you forgot your pipe." He picked it up and then saw words carved into the wood he had not seen before. Find the music, find the magic.
"Did you carve this?"
Tas did not turn. "Yes," he said, reluctantly. "I have to leave it."
"But, Tas, why?"
Tas squared his shoulders as though firming some resolve. But still he did not turn. "Because the shepherd said that it could only be used once. Thats why I can't get the pipe to play that song-or any song. I've used the magic." He took a deep breath and went on. "And he said that once I found the magic I had the pass the pipe on." he paused and then he did turn, a scamp's humor in his long brown eyes. "It's going to be a long winter. I'm going to leave it here for someone else to find."
"Snowsong" by Nancy Varian Berberick

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Journal Entry 8 by Loveabook3 at East Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania USA on Monday, March 31, 2014
Just caught this book and this is the first time I heard about book crossing, what a great idea!!!!!!

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