A readable but tendentious biography of the lone survivor of four men and one woman on Stefansson’s Wrangel Island expedition of 1921-23. The author is anti-Stefansson to some extreme, and while she may have some good points it would be difficult to verify them given the inadequacy of the documentation provided. There is no index.
p. 44: Before they left Seattle, all four men stopped in at the Old Book Store to browse their secondhand stock. They shared a love of reading and knew the books would help to ease the long solitude that lay ahead. They bought a hundred dollars worth of the best books by authors—from Thomas Carlyle to Rabelais.
p. 80: The men tried one thing after another to persuade Ada to settle into a predictable routine. Crawford sweet-talked her; they denied her supper; they made her sleep outside in the cold. “Have tried coaxing but find that sternness is better,” Knight observed. When she asked Crawford for a religious book, Knight gave her his grandfather’s Bible. He and Crawford paged through the book with her, showing her the beautifully colored illustrations and the passages that said everyone should work faithfully and be kind to others. For days after, Ada worked hard to prove that she, too, was kind and faithful. But soon she was moping about camp again, not lifting a finger. [Lorne Knight eventually gave her the Bible which had been given him by his grandfather, and it continues to be mentioned throughout this book as very important to Ada, especially after the rescue.]
p. 87: Eventually, after three hours bound to the flagpole [for refusal to work], Ada at last ceased howling, and when Knight felt she had calmed down enough and when he tired of her grumbling, he set her free. She retired to her bunk, where he could hear her reciting from his grandfather’s prayer book and singing hymns.
p. 99-100: She was fond of reminding the men of her education, and she liked to show it off by asking them for books. This amused her companions, and when she asked for a book about God, they couldn’t resist giving her Gargantua and Pantagruel—the story of a giant and his son—published in 1534 by Rabelais, the Benedictine monk who resorted to a pseudonym when he wrote his racy, satirical novels.
“Now I admit that God is mentioned in it,” Knight confided to his diary, “but not in the way it is mentioned in the church.”
They watched as Ada turned the pages, nodding her head solemnly over several passages. After a page or two, she would close the book and lie back on the ground, eyes shut, to mediate and sing hymns. The men tried to contain their laughter. “I wonder what the missionaries would think,” wrote Knight, “not that I give a darn.”
p. 113: They had read and reread all their books four or five times.
p. 156-58: As long as he was flat on his back or sitting up in his sleeping bag, he felt fine, and so Knight stayed in bed. They had on their bookshelf a copy of Spoffard’s New Cabinet Encyclopedia, [sic: New Cabinet Cyclopædia] which contained a good deal of information on scurvy. Knight told himself he wasn’t frightened. He just felt like he’d had the wind knocked out of him. And he wasn’t fully and completely convinced that he had scurvy. After all hadn’t he been chopping and hauling wood and going off hunting just days before?
He sat up on his bunk, opened his diary so that he could make notes, and studied the encyclopedia entry. … [Goes on to give a summary of the scurvy article in Spoffard.]
p. 232, after Knight died and Ada was alone: After she had finished reading her Bible, Ada picked up some of the books the men had brought to the island. She began to read about Frederick A. Cook, the explorer, who had spent two decades in the Arctic and Antarctic. The men had loved to read and sometimes they had lent Ada their books. Now they were her books and she would read as many as she could.