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

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Hyperion; 1 edition (November 12, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0786868635
  • ISBN-13: 978-0786868636
  • Product Dimensions: 9.5 x 6.6 x 1.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (81 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,105,801 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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

More About the Author

Jennifer Niven's first book, The Ice Master, was released in November 2000 and named one of the top ten nonfiction books of the year by Entertainment Weekly. A Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writer, Jennifer has ten different publishers in ten separate countries, and the book has been translated into eight languages, including German, French, Italian, Portuguese, Chinese, Danish, and Icelandic.

Jennifer and The Ice Master have 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 NBC, the Discovery Channel, and the History Channel have featured The Ice Master and Jennifer in hour-long documentaries, she and the book have appeared frequently on the BBC, and the book has been 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" -- was released in November 2003, was a Book Sense Top Ten Pick, has been optioned for the movies, was recently translated into Chinese, French, and Estonian.

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 the 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, will be published September 25, 2012. She is currently working on the fourth Velva Jean novel, which will be out in the fall of 2013.

Customer Reviews

It just kind of choose her and she was certainly the right person for it.
Betty R. Hines
Fascinating book -- very well researched and written... I believe there was a PBS Documentary made based on this book...
T. Duckworth
Ada Blackjack is such a wonderful heroine, and the four young men who went with her to the Artic were so brave and good.
Marla Madsen

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

18 of 18 people found the following review helpful By O. Zecht on November 20, 2003
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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20 of 21 people found the following review helpful 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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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By A O Cazola on November 6, 2003
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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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Doug Tennant on June 29, 2004
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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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful By robbieandrose on February 5, 2007
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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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By D. S. Bornus on March 19, 2007
Format: Paperback
This is a very interesting true story, of four young men lured to their deaths in the polar regions by V. Steffanson's tales of the "Friendly Arctic" where survival was easy. With minimal arctic experience, the four undertake an expedition to "claim" Wrangel Island for Canada (even though Canada did not want it and the island was known by all to belong to Russia.) Poorly planned, poorly equipped, and poorly executed, the fumbling expedition establishes a camp on Wrangel Island, raises the Canadian and British flags, and hunkers down to a slow demise of abandonment by V. Steffanson.

Ada Blackjack, a young Eskimo woman hired by the four to serve as seamstress, is recruited from Nome Alaska. Though descended from Eskimo people, she knows more of the "white men's" culture than her own, being able to read and write, etc. At first reluctant to undertake her responsibilities, as the privations of the expedition set in she becomes a stalwart support to the others, cooking, making arctic clothing from skins, etc. After three of the men sled off across the frozen sea on a hopeless gambit to get to Siberia for help, never to be seen again, Ada is left alone with the remaining member of the expedition, who is dying of scurvy. Left to her own resources, Ada teaches herself to hunt, trap, shoot, and build boats, recalling techniques and skills observed during childhood from observing her forebears. Ada faces her greatest fear, the dread "Nanook" (polar bears) that roam the island. Fighting starvation, hopelessness, and sickness, Ada valiantly strives to keep the remaining expedition member alive, only to see him slowly waste away from his sickness and die.
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