Determined to raise money to provide medical care for her tubercular son, 23-year-old Alaska Native Ada Blackjack accompanied four white explorers on an expedition to settle uninhabited Wrangel Island, far off the coast of Alaska, in August 1921.
Encouraged by the man who planned the mission—but did not join it—the intrepid group brought along inadequate supplies and demonstrated poor understanding of the peril posed by the island’s harsh winter. With supplies nearly gone and a second difficult winter looming, three of the men attempted to hike out over the pack ice but were never seen again. The fourth man, suffering from scurvy, was nursed by Ada but died at winter’s end. Ada learned survival techniques and managed until her rescue, two years after the expedition began. Using diaries (including Ada’s) and other notes the five explorers left, Caravantes provides a riveting description of their ordeal, but it is the nature of the story more than the telling of it that sustains interest. Prose is occasionally awkward and sometimes repetitious. Among the profusion of fact boxes that interrupt the flow of the narrative are many that relate to it only tangentially. However, these flaws fail to derail the effort. Caravantes explains her use of the term “Eskimo” as based on contemporary usage but fails to specifically identify Blackjack’s heritage.
Ada’s courage in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds makes for a worthy read. (endnotes, black-and-white photos, source information) (Biography. 11-18)