Cover image for Ada Blackjack : a true story of survival in the Arctic
Ada Blackjack : a true story of survival in the Arctic
Niven, Jennifer.
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Hyperion, [2003]

Physical Description:
viii, 431 pages : illustrations ; 25 cm
General Note:
Includes index.
Personal Subject:
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
E99.E7 B6563 2003 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf

On Order



From the author of The Ice Master comes the remarkable true story of a young Inuit woman who survived six months alone on a desolate, uninhabited Arctic island

In September 1921, four young men and Ada Blackjack, a diminutive 25-year-old Eskimo woman, ventured deep into the Arctic in a secret attempt to colonize desolate Wrangel Island for Great Britain. Two years later, Ada Blackjack emerged as the sole survivor of this ambitious polar expedition. This young, unskilled woman--who had headed to the Arctic in search of money and a husband--conquered the seemingly unconquerable north and survived all alone after her male companions had perished.

Following her triumphant return to civilization, the international press proclaimed her the female Robinson Crusoe. But whatever stories the press turned out came from the imaginations of reporters: Ada Blackjack refused to speak to anyone about her horrific two years in the Arctic. Only on one occasion--after charges were published falsely accusing her of causing the death of one her companions--did she speak up for herself.

Jennifer Niven has created an absorbing, compelling history of this remarkable woman, taking full advantage of the wealth of first-hand resources about Ada that exist, including her never-before-seen diaries, the unpublished diaries from other primary characters, and interviews with Ada's surviving son. Ada Blackjack is more than a rugged tale of a woman battling the elements to survive in the frozen north--it is the story of a hero.

Author Notes

Jennifer Niven writes both fiction and nonfiction books. Her novels for adults include American Blonde, Becoming Clementine, Velva Jean Learns to Fly, and Velva Jean Learns to Drive. Her first book for young adult readers, All the Bright Places, was published in 2015. Holding Up the Universe is her second young adult book. Her nonfiction books include The Ice Master, Ada Blackjack, and The Aqua-Net Diaries.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Niven's first book, The Ice Master (2000), was a thrilling chronicle of an Arctic exploration mission gone horribly awry. In many ways, Ada Blackjack is a follow-up, as several of the same characters and problems recur. Vilhjalmur Steffanson, the scientist whose carelessness was largely responsible for the ill-fated voyage of the Karluk, once again embarks on a haphazard mission. This time, his aim is to send a colonizing party to frozen Wrangel Island, intending to claim it for Canada. Four eager young men volunteer for the trip and try to hire Eskimos to hunt, sew, and cook for them, but only one signs up: 23-year-old Ada Blackjack. The group manages to survive on Wrangel for a year, but then an expected supply ship fails to reach them, and their situation quickly becomes dire. Three of the men set off for Siberia to get help, leaving an ailing colleague and Ada to fend for themselves. Using the diaries of the men and Ada, Niven vividly re-creates the frozen land, the struggles of the group, and Ada's ups and downs after her return. This exhilarating account is essential reading for adventure-story fans. --Kristine Huntley Copyright 2003 Booklist

Publisher's Weekly Review

The beauty of Niven's tale (after The Ice Master) reveals itself slowly, in hard-to-find bits and pieces, mirroring the piecemeal dawning of dread that blanketed the book's five protagonists one winter in 1923 on a bleak Arctic island. The explorers four young white men from the U.S. and Canada and Ada, a 23-year-old Inuit woman set out under a Canadian flag to claim a barren rock in the tundra north of the new Soviet Union for the British Empire. But with a lack of proper funding; a grandstanding, do-nothing Svengali of a leader; and an inexperienced crew, the mission was doomed from the start. Niven's hero is the slight, shy Blackjack, who, though neither as worldly wise as her companions nor as self-sufficient, learns to take care of herself and a dying member of her party after the team is trapped by ice for almost two years and the three others decide to cross the frozen ocean and make for Siberia, never to be seen again. By trapping foxes, hunting seals and dodging polar bears, Blackjack fights for her life and for the future of her ailing son, whom she left back home in Alaska, and for whose health-care expenses she agreed to take the trip. When she returns home as the only survivor, the ignoble jockeying for her attention and money by the press, her rescuer and the disreputable mission chief (who sat out the trip) melds with the clamor of city life (in Seattle and San Francisco), leaving both the reader and Blackjack near-nostalgic for the creaking ice floes and the slow rhythms of life in the northern frozen wastelands. Photos not seen by PW. Agent, John Ware. (Nov. 12) Forecast: Niven's previous book was named one of Entertainment Weekly's Top 10 Nonfiction Books of the Year 2000 and was featured in documentaries on Dateline NBC and the Discovery Channel. A radio interview campaign and national print ads should help her second book receive widespread attention. (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Was there ever a polar expedition that went smoothly, accomplished its goals, and brought back every team member alive? Are there any books written about them? Maybe so, but you'd hardly know it; we are all enthralled with the drama of disastrous adventures that inevitably fall apart when confronting Nature's elements. Niven follows up her first book in this vein, The Ice Master, with a sequel of sorts in which the same incompetent leader of a tragic Arctic mission organizes a second expedition to the same area in 1921. The book's focus, although it occasionally slips, is on a 23-year-old Inuit woman named Ada Blackjack, who was hired as the team's seamstress and was destined to be the only survivor of the misbegotten venture. Niven builds a solid and suspenseful tale around the framework of records and diaries to reveal an obscure woman's accidental heroism. However, the work as a whole is equally descriptive of the other three members of the team and the aftermath for all the families involved. Recommended for all public and academic libraries.-Elizabeth Morris, formerly with Otsego Dist. P.L., MI (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Table of Contents

Prefacep. 1
Members of the 1921 Wrangel Island Expeditionp. 4
Part I The Five

p. 7


p. 13


p. 30


p. 53

Part II Wrangel Island

p. 71


p. 92


p. 109


p. 132

Part III Survival

p. 155


p. 169


p. 182


p. 193

Part IV Relief

p. 207


p. 224


p. 240

Part V Fallout

p. 261


p. 282


p. 308


p. 326


p. 341


p. 356

Part VI Remembrance

p. 369

Epiloguep. 385
Acknowledgmentsp. 395
Endnotesp. 399
Mapp. 432