This strong historical novel portrays the impact of Robert E. Peary’s polar expeditions on the family and world of a young Inuit woman who joined them.
Her Inuit family in Greenland named her Eqariusaq, but to whites, she’s Billy Bah. Peary’s daughter, Marie, named her when she spent a year with the Peary family in the States. A few years later, on a trip also arranged by Peary, her parents died in Washington, D.C. Peary’s ship returns to Greenland, carrying his family, to find Peary gone and heads to Ellesmere Island to search for him. Billy Bah, her husband, Angulluk, and Peary’s Inuit lover and their child (whose existence is a shock to Mrs. Peary) sail with them. Angulluk often “trades” Billy Bah to white sailors in exchange for guns and ammunition, though many Inuit disapprove. She enjoys a kind sailor’s affection and Marie’s genuine friendship, but she is increasingly disturbed by the whites’ lack of consideration for her people, who are expected to risk their lives to serve the expedition. It’s a compelling yet matter-of-fact portrait of a community accustomed to life on the knife edge of survival, of extraordinary beauty and harsh realities. Readers see through Billy Bah’s eyes—events are neither explained for outsiders nor reframed in a contemporary context (unfortunate cover art excepted). Readers accept her assumptions about her world; when she begins to question them—so do they.
Stripped of airbrushed romanticism and Eurocentric gloss, a rare look at culture clash arising from polar exploration. (map, photo, Inuktun glossary, historical timeline, notes) (Historical fiction. 14-18)