In the Land of White Death : An Epic Story of Survival in the Siberian Arctic (A Modern Library E-Book)
In 1912, six months after Robert Falcon Scott and four of his men came to grief in Antarctica, a thirty-two-year-old Russian navigator named Valerian Albanov embarked on an expedition that would prove even more disastrous. In search of new Arctic hunting grounds, Albanov's ship, the Saint Anna, was frozen fast in the pack ice of the treacherous Kara Sea-a misfortune grievously compounded by an incompetent commander, the absence of crucial nautical charts, insufficient fuel, and inadequate provisions that left the crew weak and debilitated by scurvy.For nearly a year and a half, the twenty-five men and one woman aboard the Saint Anna endured terrible hardships and danger as the icebound ship drifted helplessly north. Convinced that the Saint Anna would never free herself from the ice, Albanov and thirteen crewmen left the ship in January 1914, hauling makeshift sledges and kayaks behind them across the frozen sea, hoping to reach the distant coast of Franz Josef Land.
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.) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information. -- PUBLISHERS WEEKLY.
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October 24, 2000
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Excerpt from In the Land of White Death by Valerian Albanov
How is it possible that the story of the 1912-14 voyage of the Saint Anna, one of the most tragic and heroic episodes in Arctic annals, remains virtually unknown outside of Russia? Even more regrettable, how can it be that the narrative of that expedition, written by one of its two survivors, Valerian Ivanovich Albanov, lurks in a limbo of historical obscurity? For Albanov's account is one of the rare masterpieces of polar literature, deserving of comparison with the classic texts of Fridtjof Nansen, Robert Falcon Scott, Apsley Cherry-Garrard, and Sir Ernest Shackleton. Yet with this edition, Albanov appears in English for the first time.
Although I have been a devotee of Arctic and Antarctic exploration for three decades, until 1997 I had never heard a word about the ill-starred journey of the Saint Anna, commanded by Georgiy Brusilov, nor of Albanov's daring flight from the doomed ship across the ice in quest of salvation. In Jeannette Mirsky's definitive history of northern exploration, To the Arctic!, Brusilov's expedition merits a mere sentence and a half, and that only to record the fruitless search for the lost party by a more famous explorer.
Three years ago, a French publisher, Michel Guerin, recommended to me an obscure book, published in French in 1928, called Au pays de la mort blanche. He in turn had been tipped off by Christian de Marliave, a seasoned explorer and connoisseur of polar literature. At Harvard's Widener Library, I found a copy of this French edition of Albanov, whose account in Russian was originally published in 1917. During the sixty-eight years the book had stood in the Widener stacks, it had never been checked out!
I read Albanov with a sense of awe laced with a growing excitement, for it is a stunning revelation to discover a great work in a field of writing in which one thinks one knows all the canonic books. It is thus a pleasure to introduce this neglected narrative to a new audience, and to muse on what circumstances allowed Albanov to write so vividly about the Arctic nightmare he barely survived.