Cover image for In the land of white death : an epic story of survival in the Siberian Arctic
In the land of white death : an epic story of survival in the Siberian Arctic
Alʹbanov, Valerian Ivanovich.
Uniform Title:
Mezhdu zhiznʹi͡u i smertʹi͡u. English
Modern Library edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Modern Library, 2000.
Physical Description:
xx, 205 pages : illustrations, maps ; 20 cm
General Note:
First published in Zapiski po gidrografĭi in 1917 under title: Na i͡ug k Zemli͡e Frant͡sa Iosifa, and in book form in 1925 under title: Mezhdu zhiznʹi͡u i smertʹi͡u.

Includes index.
Program Information:
Accelerated Reader AR UG 9.0 12.0 63175.
Corporate Subject:

Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
G700 1912.A5 A4313 2000 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf
G700 1912.A5 A4313 2000 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area
G700 1912.A5 A4313 2000 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks
G700 1912.A5 A4313 2000 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf

On Order



Including a new Epilogue, this is "one helluva read" ("Newsweek") and a chilling first-person account of extreme survival in the Siberian Arctic, rediscovered by Jon Krakauer and David Roberts. "Vivid . . . [a work of] terrifying beauty."--"The Boston Globe."

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Albanov's annals record his retreat in 1914 to civilization from a disastrous voyage into the Arctic Ocean. First published in Russian in 1917, the book has languished in oblivion, perhaps overshadowed by the Russian Revolution, or perhaps because ship and crew were hunters, not explorers. Its first U.S. publication, as part of Modern Library's Exploration series, edited by Into Thin Air author Jon Krakauer, capitalizes on the growing popularity of adventure books in general and on the taste for polar exploits in particular. Albanov's story begins with his admission of his motivation for leaving the Santa Anna: conflict with his captain. By early 1914, the ship and crew, who had sailed for new hunting grounds off Siberia, had drifted in ice for two winters. Ten men joined Albanov in man-hauling sledges and kayaks toward the nearest known land: Franz Josef Land, an archipelago hundreds of miles south. The ensuing ordeal, during which Albanov kept the diary that became this book, tormented the men with cold, blizzards, and hunger. No mere describer of discomfort, Albanov reflects on the gradations by which men adjust to them, along with their gyrations of hope and despair of survival on ice that drifts and splits. Though not a braggart, Albanov also notes his singular leadership in cajoling an increasingly lethargic group to press on despite deaths, one incident of thievery, and multiple disheartening setbacks. His understated sorrow at the lost lives, and thankfulness for his own and one fellow survivor's deliverance, will not release readers until the final page. As said in the introduction by David Roberts, Albanov's work truly merits inclusion with the writings of Shackleton and Scott in the canon of polar literature. A 100,000 first printing should help generate the attention this lost masterpiece deserves. --Gilbert Taylor

Publisher's Weekly Review

Between 1912 and 1914, as navigator aboard the doomed Santa Anna, Albanov completed one of the most amazing journeys in the history of Arctic exploration. After the Russian ship became frozen in the polar ice cap, Albanov led 13 members of his ship's crew across the ice and back to civilization. A friend convinced him to publish the harrowing account of how he survived. Although the book was originally published in Russian in 1917, and subsequently translated into French and German, this is its first translation into English. This is a particularly surprising turn, considering the quality of Albanov's writing. Fast-paced yet descriptive, Albanov's prose skillfully depicts the Siberian arctic so the reader can envision his plight. Albanov resists the temptation to embellish his situation, keeping his account true to the diary he kept while making the journey. The reader ends up sympathizing with, but not feeling sorry for, the author, who made the return voyage using makeshift sledges and kayaks and broken navigational equipment, and who dealt with a team of incompetent companions, all but one of whom died on the journey. Here is a vivid portrait of a courageous leader, a skilled explorer and a practical problem solver. 100,000 first printing. (Oct.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Part of the "Modern Library Exploration" series, this tale of survival in the Siberian Arctic was published in 1917 but is being translated only now. If you're thinking, "Aha, another book inspired by Jon Krakauer's Into Thin Air," that's smart: Krakauer is series editor. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



How many weeks and months have gone by since the day I left the Saint Anna and bade farewell to Lieutenant Brusilov! Little did I know that our separation was to be forever. The ship was completely trapped by the ice pack. She had been drifting northward for a year and a half off Franz Josef Land. In October 1912, she had become icebound in the Kara Sea at latitude 71'45'' north, unable to advance or retreat, at the mercy of the winds and tides. Together with thirteen other crewmembers I left the ship to her aimless course and set off on foot toward Franz Josef Land, in search of an inhabited shore. Although it is not overly long since I left, I find it somewhat difficult to re-create from memory a complete picture of those dismal weeks and months on board the Saint Anna. I have completely forgotten many incidents, but certain events remain engraved on my memory. If the diary I had kept on the ship had been saved, my narrative would of course have made use of its entire contents. But all the notes that I had entrusted to two companions on the eve of my rescue disappeared with them when they failed to reach Cape Flora on Northbrook Island in the Franz Josef archipelago. The few notes I kept on my person are intact, and cover the period from May 14 to August 10, 1914. Here follows the excerpt from Lieutenant Brusilov's logbook relating the events which caused our separation, and which I submitted upon my return to the Hydrographic Bureau of Petrograd: September 9. I relieved the navigation officer of his duties. January 9. Lengthened the Thomson sounding cable with a makeshift wire cable, as the 400-fathom sounding line that we had at our disposal was inadequate. Navigation Officer Albanov, whom I have relieved of his duties, asked me for permission and materials to build a kayak in which he planned to leave the ship in the springtime. Appreciating his difficult position on board, I gave my consent. Northern lights in the evening. January 22. The ship's crew asked me to meet with them in their quarters, and when I did they also requested permission to build kayaks, following the navigation officer's example. They were afraid of spending a third winter in such perilous circumstances and with so few provisions. At first I tried to talk them out of their plan by promising that if the ship did not break free of the ice by the following summer, we too would abandon the ship and set off in our lifeboats. I reminded them of the fate of the Jeannette, whose crew had been forced to cover a far greater distance in their light craft, but had nevertheless managed to reach a safe port. My efforts were in vain, as none of them believed the Saint Anna would ever break free again, and their only desire was to see their homeland again. I announced that they could all make ready to leave if that is what they wanted. A small but increasing number of them decided to stay, more than I actually would have liked, but I did not want to force anyone to leave. Together with the nurse, those who finally remained on board were two harpooners, the engineer, the stoker, the steward, the cook, and two young sailors. I needed their services in any case to maintain and run the ship. Taking their numbers into account, our supplies should last for one year, if rationed carefully, and so in the final analysis I was quite pleased with this unexpected turn of events. My sense of responsibility had remained intact because the others were leaving voluntarily, and had freely chosen their fate. . . . At my request, the following paragraph explaining my reasons for leaving the Saint Anna was added to Brusilov's logbook: "After Lieutenant Brusilov had recovered from his long and serious illness, our relations became more and more strained to the point of becoming intolerable in our present desperate situation. As I could not foresee a solution to our conflict, I asked the lieutenant to relieve me of my duties as navigator. After some reflection Lieutenant Brusilov complied with my request, for which I am extremely grateful to him." His own account proves beyond question that I asked to leave alone. It was only on January 22 that he informed me that certain crewmembers wished to accompany me. The only reason I wanted to leave was my personal dispute with Brusilov, whereas the others wanted to avoid spending a third winter marooned on the ice with dwindling supplies. Now as I look back in retrospect on my quarrel with Brusilov, I can see that the pressure of our desperate situation had frayed our nerves to the breaking point. Our journey had been dogged by misfortune from the very start. Serious illness, a pervasive doubt that our fortunes would soon change, the certainty that we were at the mercy of hostile natural forces, and, finally, the growing concern about our inadequate food supply, were grounds for all manner of disagreements and flaring tempers. The minor frictions that a prolonged sharing of quarters inevitably produces drove us further and further apart, and finally created an almost insurmountable barrier between us. Neither of us made any effort to put our differences aside and let bygones be bygones. The air was electric whenever we met; an underlying hostility became more and more evident, and senseless fits of anger prevailed on every occasion. At times we quarreled so violently, for practically no reason at all, that we were left speechless and had to stay away from each other to avoid more serious outbursts. If we each had tried, after the fact, to recall exactly why we had quarreled, we would seldom have found a legitimate reason. Even after lengthy reflection I cannot remember whether, after September 1913, we ever once had a normal, civilized conversation! We were always overemotional and often broke off our discussions in a rage. Today I am certain that we would have understood one another well enough if we had both been able to stay calm. No doubt we would have agreed that in most cases there was no cause for dispute, and that a little mutual patience would have quickly improved our relationship. But that was impossible in our overwrought state. In spite of everything, however, we did not part on bad terms. The odd, unbalanced state of mind that had prevailed on the ship now seems hard to fathom. . . . The Saint Anna had been very well fitted out and stocked with supplies for eighteen months. There were only twenty-four crewmembers, but our supplies had been calculated for thirty. So for the time being there was no danger of shortages. During the first year, moreover, our bear hunting had been quite successful, and had added considerably to our provisions. We could therefore assume that strict management of our resources would allow the entire crew an additional year's grace, until December 1914. Bountiful hunting might have improved our situation somewhat, but in the second year we had encountered absolutely no animals to hunt, so there was no good reason to count on this. Early in 1914, moreover, we realized that it would be impossible to free the Saint Anna from the ice; at best, we would drift until the autumn of 1915, more than three years after we had departed Alexandrovsk.* If we stayed on board, starvation would become a real threat by January 1915, if not sooner. In the darkness of the long polar night, a struggle against hunger carries no hope of salvation. During this season, hunting is out of the question, as all animals are in hibernation. The only certainty for those trapped in its realm is that "white death" lies in wait for them. Although a large number of crewmen were abandoning the vessel at a time when conditions for traveling and hunting were at their most favorable, and were taking with them two months' supplies--mainly ship's biscuits--those staying on board the Saint Anna would still have enough provisions to last them comfortably until the autumn of 1915. We assumed also that the ship would, in the meantime, eventually be able to reach open water somewhere between Greenland and Svalbard. Excerpted from In the Land of White Death: An Epic Story of Survival in the Siberian Arctic by Valerian Albanov All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.