Thursday, March 29, 2007

In The Land of White Death

I've always had a passing interest in literature about polar exploration, but when I had an idea for a novel set at the North Pole I started reading everything I could get my hands on regarding both Poles. A few have been mildly disappointing, but for the most part I have to say I am enjoying these books tremendously. Some of the best I've read so far are Ice Master, The Doomed 1913 Voyage of The Karluk by Jennifer Niven and In The Land of White Death by Valerian Albanov.

The latter I just finished today and it proved to be a most compelling story. Originally published in Russia in 1917 (Albanov was Russian), it is the firsthand account of Albanov's abandoment of the ship, Saint Anna, in 1914 along with 12 other crewman . The Saint Anna had been frozen in the Arctic almost due north of the Franz Josef archipelago for more than a year and a half, and Albanov and aproximately half the ship's crew decided they would rather take their chances on foot than waste another year hoping the shifting ice would spit the ship into open ocean before it crushed it (as happened so often to ships frozen in the ice - most famously with Shackleton's ship, Endurance, as well as the Karluk in the aforementioned book by by Niven)).

The main differences between Albanov's story and the others is that Shackleton eventually got all his men home alive, and the Karluk's captain, Robert Bartlett, got over half his men home alive, while Valerian Albanov, the navigator on the Saint Anna, was one of only two survivors of his expedition. Also, his book is told entirely in his words, as opposed to most other books of this kind which are told by historians after the fact. It does start out a little slowly, but by time I got to the end I found myself wishing someone would hurry up and a make a movie based on this book. It was an amazing tale, amazingly well told (especially when you consider who it was written by and under what circumstances). Albanov's descriptions are conscise and precise and created such a vivid picture of the scenery and events that I can still see it in my mind.

And the story behind the story (you know how I love those) is interesting too. The book was originally published in 1917, then translated into French in 1928. But that was as far as it ever went. It was overlooked, lost, forgotten. But in 1998 it was rediscovered and eventually published in English for the first (in 2000). So as familiar as some stories of polar exploration are, here is an amazing one that has been lost until just recently, and I would highly recommend it to any one.

In The Land of White Death by Valerian Albanov. Go read it. Now.


Jetse de Vries said...

Very interesting: it makes me wonder if Dan Simmons, whose "the Terror" is now making quite a splash, has read the Albanov novel.

Now, if I didn't have a few hundred other novels to read, I'd put this on my 'to read' pile, as well. Will think about buying it instead of the Dan Simmons, just to be contrary...


Anonymous said...

Dan who...?



P.S. Checked out the site you recommended for the band Threshhold and enjoyed the two songs available there. Enjoyed them very much. Reminded me a bit of the band, Dream Theater, if you remember them from the 90's.

Juliette Wade said...

How interesting, given the title of the book, that "alba" means "white." Thanks for the recommendation.

Eric James Stone said...

I read Endurance, the book about Shackleton's voyage, a couple of years ago and ejoyed it a lot.