In the early 20th-century era of daring polar exploration, the less-trumpeted fishing and hunting expeditions went largely unrecorded. Except, that is, for a recently discovered tale about a Russian hunter and his shipmate. Valerian Albanov's account of his 18-month-long survival in the Siberian Arctic remained unknown until a group of polar-literature enthusiasts rediscovered it in 1997. Translated into English for the first time, In the Land of White Death competes with the adventures of famed heroes Robert Falcon Scott, Apsley Cherry-Garrard, and Ernest Shackleton. And like Scott's and Cherry-Garrard's narratives, Albanov's tale is penned from a diary he kept during his remarkable ordeal.
Albanov's epic begins in 1914, after he leaves the Saint Anna, a sailing vessel bound for Vladivostok and new hunting territory, 7,000 miles across dangerous water. Only a few months into the voyage, the ship is trapped in pack ice, where it drifts helplessly with the Kara Sea ice flow for nearly one and a half years. With supplies dwindling and no hope of rescue, Albanov, the ship's navigator, and 13 of his colleagues leave the boat and the remaining crew to look for land. Outfitted with sleds and kayaks built from scavenged fragments of the Saint Anna, Albanov begins his 18-month trek to Franz Josef Land with a broken chronometer, scant supplies, and a team of inexperienced men.
Facing starvation, subzero temperatures, and the loss of most of his team, Albanov persists, searching for an outpost rumored to be at Cape Flora, 120 miles from his original starting point. He and his last surviving shipmate survive a litany of amazing mishaps: asleep on an ice flow, they are dumped into frozen water while bound in a sleeping bag; scurvy nearly kills Albanov only a few miles from his destination; and once help arrives, they're caught in the first skirmishes of World War I, a conflict of which they had no knowledge.
Albanov's experience is a brief, gripping account of a story that rivals the greatest survival tales in history. The diary style of his tale preserves its emotional authenticity as he trudges his way across the frozen Arctic, and his knack for clear detail only highlights the unbelievable fact that Albanov was lucid enough to write at all during his winter march across a deadly landscape. --Lolly Merrell