The hard challenge that defeats Niven: making an exciting story when morbidity and cheap behavior are the main ingredients....

ADA BLACKJACK

A TRUE STORY OF SURVIVAL IN THE ARCTIC

The grim tale of an Arctic expedition that had “doomed” stamped on it from the start, told (at times over-told) by Niven (The Ice Master, not reviewed).

“She was a young and unskilled woman who headed into the Arctic in search of money and a husband,” Niven writes of Ada Blackjack. What Blackjack hadn’t bargained on, and what gives Niven’s story what zing it has, is that famed Arctic explorer Vilhjalmur Stefansson had decided, without any authority, that Wrangel Island ought to be a British possession and that “any claim that might have belonged to the Russians or the Americans had lapsed.” The island would make a nifty air base, a possible radio and meteorological station, and be helpful in nipping Japanese imperial aspirations. Stefansson put together the expedition with four men and Blackjack—the team’s seamstress—and intimated that he, too, would be among the explorers, though he had no intention of traveling with the group. The team soon found that Wrangel was an acquired taste: gloomy, rocky, cloudy, stormy, icy, and damn cold. When things started getting difficult (Niven suggests that the unpredictable Blackjack was suffering from “Arctic Hysteria”) and the supply ship failed to materialize—Stefansson had run out of money—three of the men struck out for Nome, leaving Blackjack with the remaining scurvy-ruined member. Two years later, Blackjack alone met the rescue party—heroic, and yet Niven fails to lift Blackjack’s achievement out of the tedium of days: gathering wood, hunting, caring for a man who took a long time to die. There’s little transport in the details—“On April 24, she washed her hair”—and the resulting brouhaha over the expedition’s diaries serves only to highlight the tawdriness of the affair.

The hard challenge that defeats Niven: making an exciting story when morbidity and cheap behavior are the main ingredients. (16 pp. b&w photos, not seen)

Pub Date: Nov. 12, 2003

ISBN: 0-7868-6863-5

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Hyperion

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2003

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...

NIGHT

Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

Did you like this book?

Buffs of the Old West will enjoy Clavin’s careful research and vivid writing.

TOMBSTONE

THE EARP BROTHERS, DOC HOLLIDAY, AND THE VENDETTA RIDE FROM HELL

Rootin’-tootin’ history of the dry-gulchers, horn-swogglers, and outright killers who populated the Wild West’s wildest city in the late 19th century.

The stories of Wyatt Earp and company, the shootout at the O.K. Corral, and Geronimo and the Apache Wars are all well known. Clavin, who has written books on Dodge City and Wild Bill Hickok, delivers a solid narrative that usefully links significant events—making allies of white enemies, for instance, in facing down the Apache threat, rustling from Mexico, and other ethnically charged circumstances. The author is a touch revisionist, in the modern fashion, in noting that the Earps and Clantons weren’t as bloodthirsty as popular culture has made them out to be. For example, Wyatt and Bat Masterson “took the ‘peace’ in peace officer literally and knew that the way to tame the notorious town was not to outkill the bad guys but to intimidate them, sometimes with the help of a gun barrel to the skull.” Indeed, while some of the Clantons and some of the Earps died violently, most—Wyatt, Bat, Doc Holliday—died of cancer and other ailments, if only a few of old age. Clavin complicates the story by reminding readers that the Earps weren’t really the law in Tombstone and sometimes fell on the other side of the line and that the ordinary citizens of Tombstone and other famed Western venues valued order and peace and weren’t particularly keen on gunfighters and their mischief. Still, updating the old notion that the Earp myth is the American Iliad, the author is at his best when he delineates those fraught spasms of violence. “It is never a good sign for law-abiding citizens,” he writes at one high point, “to see Johnny Ringo rush into town, both him and his horse all in a lather.” Indeed not, even if Ringo wound up killing himself and law-abiding Tombstone faded into obscurity when the silver played out.

Buffs of the Old West will enjoy Clavin’s careful research and vivid writing.

Pub Date: April 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-250-21458-4

Page Count: 400

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Jan. 20, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2020

Did you like this book?

more