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Ada BlackJack: A True Story of Survival in the Arctic Paperback – November 3, 2004

4.5 out of 5 stars 98 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. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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 --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 464 pages
  • Publisher: Hachette Books; Reprint edition (November 3, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 078688746X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0786887460
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 1.1 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (98 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #173,112 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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: 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
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: 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: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
When reading the description of this book I expected it to be full of adventure, excitement, tragedy, and survival. Instead I read about Stef, a selfish man who has no issue with using someone's tragic story, even someone dead, for personal gain. And about Noice, who basically is the same. They lie, cheat, and steal at the expense of the people that looked up to them.
I wanted to read about the story of Ada and surviving the Arctic, which there didn't seem to be too much of in this book.
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