I just started re-reading this book again and I remembered how much I loved it the first time.
I’m a huge sucker for polar exploration and survival, despite being a desert rat. Not sure why that is but I love it. I’ve been inside the polar ship Fram, I’ve watched The Endurance soooo many times and i watch and read just about everything I can on the subject. There are a few stories that are retold over and over and for good reason, but one story seems to have slipped through the cracks of time.
In the land of white death is a journal and retelling of a story of survival from an ill-fated 1912 hunting expedition in the Kara sea in Russia’s extreme north. Its written by the ship’s navigator and one of 2 surviving parties, Valerian Albanov. It was first published in 1917 in Russian but only but then rediscovered in the late 70's and then translated to english for the first time.
Knowing it’s a tale of arctic survival paints the broad strokes of the content well enough that I won’t go into the plot summation but that’s not what makes it a great read. What makes this book so great is that it’s free of the flowery prose of an exploration romance novel, that is to say, the romance of expedition. It feels honest and, for the most part, unburdened by heroic survivor subtext that can accompany any retelling of a story of this type (i.e. the Krakauer effect). It’s not dry though, Albanov’s retelling does that rare thing; tells a tight story, but paints a vivid mental picture. It’s no Jack London novel, but it’s no less gripping. It haunts you when you read it too on account of its historical nature...this isn’t fiction.
At 243 pages (about 220 of story and the remainder maps and intro) it’s also completely readable in a trip of a few days and has the effect, as all these books do, of putting whinny first world problems in their place. I wish I would have had this book on my Lockhart trip as it would have changed my perspective on what kind of reality I was actually in.
Its 100% worth a read at least and, I think, a spot in your permanent library.