Marooned in the Arctic by Peggy Caravantes

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Marooned in the Arctic by Peggy Caravantes

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Category: Biography
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: John Lloyd
Reviewed by John Lloyd
Summary: Ignore the fact this is deemed a biography for the young audience – many an adult book would give their recto pages for the brilliant story you get here.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 208 Date: March 2016
Publisher: Chicago Review Press
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 9781613730980

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Misogynists are manmade. And if anyone was in a position to hate men and the lot they put on their shoulders, it was Ava Blackjack. Her surname spoke of an abusive man she had a son by, but it was her time with four other men that made for one of the last century's more remarkable stories. An Inuit native, but one brought up in a city and with English lessons, she was invited on an excursion alongside many other 'Eskimo' and four intrepid Westerners, to the uninhabited Wrangel Island, perched off the northern Siberian coast. They were there just to stick a flag in it and call it British, even if they were pretty much fully American and Canadian, and the chap whose ideas these all were bore an Icelandic name; she was along to provide native expertise, especially waterproof fur clothing. And that was it – none of her kin joined her, leaving her in one tent and four men in another, in one of the world's most remote and inhospitable places. And that was just the start of her worries…

Well, I lie at that – without making this sound a completely drear and pessimistic read, for it is nothing of the kind, she already had problems. Two children had died, and the surviving one was very ill, forcing her hand in choosing the wages from the expedition to pay for his care. But what chance did she have – they had no idea about stashing food as they should, taking the best weather in decades as the norm; they had the wrong kind of boat with which to hunt from; they wrote diaries between them where only one credited her with a name; and so on and so on. I am of course pulling back from the more severe, more startling and more readable details of the story as well, because I certainly think you should discover them for yourselves, and this book is the perfect place to turn.

It's probably quite easy to make a brilliant book out of such a compelling story, but this really does stand as a hallmark volume, for the simple fact that it is dressed as a children's non-fiction title. And boy it opened my eyes a little – if they could all be this good, I would probably forsake adult biographies and histories, for this is impeccable in how readable it is, and how easily it guides us through original documentation and later interview quotes, and gives us the full picture. It's part of a series concerning extraordinary female lives, and while the first half of the book seems to concentrate on the male portion of the group (not just in the small chapters each man has devoted to him) it does eventually turn into a book about just that, a remarkable female story.

But the book doesn't deserve to be pigeon-holed as a female story, or for this age group or that. It never patronises, and only really reads as for the young when page-long box-outs define, say, Orville Wright, whose funds creep into the story, or ships' firemen. Elsewhere it's just crystal clear, never giving us too much or too little information, and for me bringing a riveting real life story to my attention. So I would ignore all categorisations, all tags (bar that handsomely worn 'five star' one, and rush to make yourself acquainted with this dramatic read. Great photos, wonderful legibility for all, and just the sheer enjoyment of the original story and its welter of 'couldn't make it up' details make me one very enthusiastic reader.

Serious Survival: How to Poo in the Arctic and Other Essential Tips for Explorers by Marshall Corwin will bring to life the extremes of the planet for the very young, although it kind of belittles the humanity of the book in question. If you come here as an adult, Boundless: Adventures in the Northwest Passage by Kathleen Winter covers similar geography.

Booklists.jpg Marooned in the Arctic by Peggy Caravantes is in the Top Ten Autobiographies and Biographies 2016.

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Buy Marooned in the Arctic by Peggy Caravantes at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Marooned in the Arctic by Peggy Caravantes at


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