Hyperion, Nov 2003, 24.95, 432 pp.
In 1921, notorious explorer Stefansson hires twentyish female Inuit Ada Blackjack as seamstress to four young Anglo-American males he recruited to claim the uninhabited Arctic Wrangel Island for the British Empire. The crew was under supplied as Stefansson expected them to live off the frozen tundra. They lacked any substantial sub zero weather experience though two once traveled beyond the Circle. At least the men (Crawford, Knight, Maurer, and Galle) saw this expedition as a youthful lark. The mission failed miserably and three of the team headed to Siberia, leaving Ada to tend to the dying fifth companion. Two years later, Ada is the only one to return home; nothing but rumors of white male sightings beyond the Arctic Circle was ever heard from the trio.
ADA BLACKJACK is a great biography of a heroine who risks all so that her ailing son can receive proper medical care back in Nome. The book rips the dynamic leader Stefannson who remained behind in relative comfort though that might be an unfair historiography slight. His behavior is comparable to the World War I generals living in luxury in London, Paris, and Berlin while the grunts lacked shoes and breathed poison gas or presidents on campaign fundraisers while troops at war receive one MRE. Ada is a great individual whose survival is so spectacular one would think her tale is fiction. The media frenzy that follows her return brings readers back to reality as the frozen island seems warmer than the press corps. With this superb tome and the delightful ICE MASTER, Jennifer Niven is a leader of chronicling exciting and inspiring but doomed real life Arctic expeditions.
This report prepared by Harriet Klausner