Friday, January 21, 2011

In The Land of White Death

It seems like forever since I have a read a book. Usually I like reading young adult books (they're really good these days!) but I was sidelined yesterday with vertigo that is either an ear infection or was triggered by the abrupt warm winter wind we get called a chinook. The pressure will drop suddenly as temperatures rise and it leaves a lot of people with migraines.

The book was In the Land of White Death: An Epic Story of Survival in the Siberian Arctic and is basically an almost-forgotten diary by the navigator of the ill-fated Saint Anna, Valerian Albanov.

If you like perilous true adventure stories like Into Thin Air, you'll probably love this book. It is so full of natural suspense. When the St. Anna becomes trapped in Arctic ice, Albanov decides to leave the ship and finds that about half the crew wants to go with him. They fashion sleds and kayaks and start their journey in a blizzard. After many months, only Albanov and one other crew member were rescued. The others succumbed to illness or were lost. I find it truly amazing that he was able to navigate southward using seemingly low-tech tools and a badly drawn map. But even high-tech gear is no match for the fickle force of nature.

Usually diary formats bore me, but it's because they can be so contrived. Albanov has a real talent as a writer and is incredibly honest in his frustrations and joy. The weather changes so quickly that as soon as you are relieved that they were able to shoot seals for dinner, you feel crushed as two of the men make off with equipment and supplies the others needed. He spares no detail in describing just how harsh the lives of the crew had become, as well as how harsh life was on the boat that rescued them. It was suffering as well and anything that could be fed to the boiler, including the masts, panelling and decks were sacrificed. The diary is such a vivid portrait, and if it had not happened to Albanov in real life, I don't think anyone else could have invented it.


  1. Glad you enjoyed the book. I am so not a reader. lol

  2. I kinda hope they make this book into a movie, because it would be a good one! When they are finally rescued they discover WWI is in full swing. I can't imagine how strange that must have been!