Niven, Jennifer. Ada Blackjack: a True Story of Survival in the Arctic. New York: Hyperion, 2003.
Reason read: Ear-marking the reindeer is an Arctic tradition that takes place in the summer.
Jennifer Niven calls Ada Blackjack a hero. I don’t think I would go that far. She didn’t save anyone’s life and her heroic deeds were limited to having the courage and resourcefulness to survive her unlikely predicament physically unscathed. I say unlikely because what would a impoverished and divorced 23 year old Inuit woman (a rumored prostitute) be doing on a potentially illegal expedition in the wilds of an Arctic island with four young white men and a cat? Desperate to find a husband and to make enough money to care for her oft-ill son, Ada signs on a seamstress with explorer Vilhjamur Stefansson’s mission to colonize barren Wrangel Island off the coast of Siberia. Using the theory of squatters’ rights, Stafansson sent four young men and six months worth of supplies to plant the British flag on what he thought was unclaimed land. He only sent them with six months of supplies because he was sure they could survive off the land once they had exhausted their stores. What could possibly go wrong in the “friendly” Arctic?
It’s not a plot spoiler to say that Ada was the only human to make it out alive (and yes, the cat survives, too). But, here’s where the story gets interesting. Stefansson vacillates between wanting to take all the credit for Ada’s survival and pretending he’s never heard of the woman. It’s what happens after the rescue that becomes the bigger story.
As an aside, I love the process of discovery. While Niven was researching her first book, The Ice Master she discovered Nome, Alaska native Ada Blackjack. Ada’s adventure intrigued Niven enough to prompt her to dig into Blackjack’s life story and ultimately, write a memoir about her expedition with four white men (and a cat) to Wrangel Island. To carry that idea of discovery a step further, after reading Ada Blackjack I found a documentary on her. I got caught up in her mystique, too.
Author fact: Niven also wrote The Ice Master which is on my Challenge list.
Book trivia: Ada Blackjack includes two wonderful sections of photographs. A handful of comments about the photos: the expedition cat, Vic, is fantastic. Milton Galle is a man’s man and my favorite photo is of Vic and Milton. They were all good looking people.
Nancy said: If you like Krakauer or Junger, you will like Niven.
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “To the Ends of the Earth: North and South” (p 231).