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Ada Blackjack: A True Story of Survival in the Arctic Hardcover – November 12, 2003

4.4 out of 5 stars 92 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

The beauty of Niven's tale (after The Ice Master) reveals itself slowly, in hard-to-find bits and pieces, mirroring the piecemeal dawning of dread that blanketed the book's five protagonists one winter in 1923 on a bleak Arctic island. The explorers four young white men from the U.S. and Canada and Ada, a 23-year-old Inuit woman set out under a Canadian flag to claim a barren rock in the tundra north of the new Soviet Union for the British Empire. But with a lack of proper funding; a grandstanding, do-nothing Svengali of a leader; and an inexperienced crew, the mission was doomed from the start. Niven's hero is the slight, shy Blackjack, who, though neither as worldly wise as her companions nor as self-sufficient, learns to take care of herself and a dying member of her party after the team is trapped by ice for almost two years and the three others decide to cross the frozen ocean and make for Siberia, never to be seen again. By trapping foxes, hunting seals and dodging polar bears, Blackjack fights for her life and for the future of her ailing son, whom she left back home in Alaska, and for whose health-care expenses she agreed to take the trip. When she returns home as the only survivor, the ignoble jockeying for her attention and money by the press, her rescuer and the disreputable mission chief (who sat out the trip) melds with the clamor of city life (in Seattle and San Francisco), leaving both the reader and Blackjack near-nostalgic for the creaking ice floes and the slow rhythms of life in the northern frozen wastelands. Photos not seen by PW.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Booklist

*Starred Review* Niven's first book, The Ice Master (2000), was a thrilling chronicle of an Arctic exploration mission gone horribly awry. In many ways, Ada Blackjack is a follow-up, as several of the same characters and problems recur. Vilhjalmur Steffanson, the scientist whose carelessness was largely responsible for the ill-fated voyage of the Karluk, once again embarks on a haphazard mission. This time, his aim is to send a colonizing party to frozen Wrangel Island, intending to claim it for Canada. Four eager young men volunteer for the trip and try to hire Eskimos to hunt, sew, and cook for them, but only one signs up: 23-year-old Ada Blackjack. The group manages to survive on Wrangel for a year, but then an expected supply ship fails to reach them, and their situation quickly becomes dire. Three of the men set off for Siberia to get help, leaving an ailing colleague and Ada to fend for themselves. Using the diaries of the men and Ada, Niven vividly re-creates the frozen land, the struggles of the group, and Ada's ups and downs after her return. This exhilarating account is essential reading for adventure-story fans. Kristine Huntley
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Hachette Books; 1 edition (November 12, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0786868635
  • ISBN-13: 978-0786868636
  • Product Dimensions: 6.2 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.9 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (92 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #927,156 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

New York Times bestselling author Jennifer Niven has always wanted to be a Charlie's Angel, but her true passion is writing. Her most recent book, All the Bright Places, is her first novel for young adult readers and tells the story of a girl who learns to live from a boy who intends to die. All the Bright Places is the #1 Kids' Indie Next Book for Winter '14-'15, an Amazon.com editor's Pick/Best Book of the Month, the GoodReads Choice for Best Young Adult Fiction of 2015, a Time Magazine YA Book of the Year, and a New York Times/international bestseller. The foreign rights have already sold to thirty-eight territories, and the movie rights have been optioned with Elle Fanning attached to star. As a companion to the book, Jennifer has created Germ (www.germmagazine.com), a web magazine for and run by girls (and boys) -- high school and beyond -- that celebrates beginnings, futures, and all the amazing and agonizing moments in between.

With the publication of her first book, The Ice Master, Jennifer became a Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writer. A nonfiction account of a deadly Arctic expedition, The Ice Master was released in November 2000 and named one of the top ten nonfiction books of the year by Entertainment Weekly, and translated into multiple languages, including German, French, Italian, Portuguese, Chinese, Danish, and Icelandic. Jennifer and The Ice Master appeared in Newsweek, Entertainment Weekly, Talk, Glamour, The New Yorker, Outside, The New York Times Book Review, The London Daily Mail, The London Times, and Writer's Digest, among others. Dateline BBC, the Discovery Channel, and the History Channel featured The Ice Master an hour-long documentaries, and the book was the subject of numerous German, Canadian, and British television documentaries. The Ice Master has been nominated for awards by the American Library Association and Book Sense, and received Italy's esteemed Gambrinus Giuseppe Mazzotti Prize for 2002.

Jennifer's second book, Ada Blackjack -- an inspiring true story of the woman the press called "the female Robinson Crusoe" -- has been translated into Chinese, French, and Estonian, was a Book Sense Top Ten Pick, and was named by The Wall Street Journal as one of the Top Five Arctic books.

Her memoir, The Aqua-Net Diaries: Big Hair, Big Dreams, Small Town, was published in February 2010 by Gallery Books, a division of Simon & Schuster, and was optioned by Warner Bros. as a television series.

Her first novel, Velva Jean Learns to Drive (based on her Emmy Award-winning film of the same name), was released July 2009 by Penguin/Plume. It was an Indie Pick for the August 2009 Indie Next List and was also a Costco Book of the Month. The second book in the Velva Jean series, Velva Jean Learns to Fly, was released by Penguin/Plume in August 2011, and the third book in the series, Becoming Clementine, was published in September 2012. The fourth Velva Jean novel, American Blonde, hit shelves in 2014.

With her mother, author Penelope Niven, Jennifer has conducted numerous seminars in writing and addressed audiences around the world. She lives in Los Angeles.

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Gail Moore on December 18, 2004
Format: Paperback
Absorbing account of an Inuit woman who was the sole survivor of a tragic Arctic expedition and her four male companions who did not make it. Born Ada Delutuk in 1898, when she was eight she was taken in by Methodist missionaries in Nome and talk to read, write, sew and cook. At sixteen she married Jack Blackjack, was divorced at 21, one son out of 3 children survived, but she was unable to care for him because of his tuberculosis. She was persuaded to accompany a group of young men on a land claims expedition to Wrangle Island, a desolate place above the Arctic circle between Canada and Siberia, to cook and sew for them. For Ada the money is good and will enable her to support her son she is promised the mission will be for one year only and that two other Eskimo families will accompany them, but they abandon the mission at the last moment.

This mission had been organized by Vilhjalmur Steffanson, an irresponsible publicity seeker who influenced the young men to go, in their eyes Steffanson was a hero. It was his opinion that it was as easy to live in Arctic as anywhere else, nothing to it, though he himself had never done it, and had already led a disastrous mission once before, he had abandoned his crew and men had died.

Ada and her companions set out in September 1921, under supplied but even so they survived. After a year though the relief crew and ship promised by Steffanson did not arrive and then things became more desperate as supplies were too low to survive another winter. It was decided that Ada would stay with one of the men too sick to travel and the other three would strike out across the ice for the Siberian coast When the ship finally did arrive in 1923, Ada was alone.
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Format: Hardcover
Like so many others I've devoured every book on polar exploration that I can get my hands on. I was a big fan of Niven's Ice Master and knew I wanted to read whatever came next from her. Then here came Ada Blackjack, the most unforgettable hero to ever walk out of the Arctic. The fact that she's a woman in a (largely) man's world, that she lacked all knowledge of polar survival, and that she was the only one to walk away from a horrific expedition (after teaching herself all the skills needed to survive) makes her compelling enough, but Niven's story of this obscure, inspiring Eskimo woman transcends the adventure genre and introduces us to a simple, real-life, unexceptional woman who became movingly, unforgettably exceptional.
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Format: Hardcover
When you're thinking of dropping out to an exotic locale for a year, I would guess that the frozen wastelands of The North Siberian Islands are not usually the first thing you type into Google. As it turned out, for Ada Blackjack, Siberia's Wrangel Island was not exactly vacation destination #1 either, but as part of a 1920s surveying and land claims expedition she wound up spending two years struggling to survive the island's brutal climate. Jennifer Niven's new book tells Ada's story: from the formation of the expeditionary party by a meglomaniacal sponsor, through the ordeal on the island, to Ada's life after Wrangel.
Niven's writing in simply incredible. She has succeeded brilliantly at finding the balance between relaying the historical facts of Ada's life and telling a great adventure story; the true hallmark of good historical writing. But, ultimately, it is Ada, herself, that casued me to love this book. She is a fascinating character on so many levels. Her life both before and after Wrangel was filled with more turmoil than most, but it is the two years on the island that make this biography a real winner. Brought up to Wrangel as a cook in the company of four adventurers, it seemed unlikely that she would be the only one to survive. But it was Ada's perserverence, adaptability and intelligence that allowed her to emerge as the lone survivor while her four compatriots were voted off the island by disease, exposure and tragic errors in judgment.
Ada Blackjack is a tremendously good read. For lovers of adventure writing, history or girl power, Niven has delivered.
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Format: Paperback
I picked up this book knowing nothing about the artic expedition to Wrangel Island. I found the story initially quite fascinating but that the book really bogged down when the author insisted on including the contents of every letter that the survivors families wrote over the next ten years. I feel that the book could have been much shorter and still powerfully portrayed the struggles of Ada and her companions to survive Wrangel Island.
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Format: Hardcover
Ada Blackjack reads like a documentary and can be a bit dry at times as it really tells the greater story of the doomed Wrangel Island Expedition of the Arctic. But the deeper story of Ada Blackjack, the lone survivor of the expedition, is riveting. Her simple faith and love for her son gives her the strength to endure unimaginable hardship. This woman should not be forgotten, nor should the folly of the men who pioneered the expedition go unremembered. Kudos to author Niven.
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Format: Hardcover
I havn't even finished the book (about 3/4 through it) but I am so impressed by the writer's style, and the general interest of the subject, that I am compelled to recommend it highly. This is one of those books I just can't wait to pick up again. The writer's style is so concise, logical, and flowing that the story moves along effortlessly. Niven has obviously taken a huge amount of information and distilled it skillfully into a lean narrative. Buy it! I am a lover of the adventure/survival genre, particularly as regards the Arctic, and this book is one of the good ones!
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