by Steven Heighton
Published by Knopf Canada
402 pages, 2005
Reviewed by Cherie Thiessen
In 1872 the Polaris set out with 36 men, women and children aboard in an effort to plant the American flag at the North Pole. Instead, off the coast of Ellesmere Island, in stormy conditions, half of the party found themselves planted on an ice floe watching the Polaris wallowing away, never to return. It was mid-October. On April 30th they were rescued by the incredulous captain of a passing steamer. Their six months' ordeal is the history authour Steven Heighton uses to build his tale of betrayal, bravery and unrequited love.
Their survival, though fact, is the stuff of fiction. How could they have survived such conditions? Ravaging polar bears, the break-up of their ice floe home and loss of their tents, the willful destruction of their whale boat, the mutiny among the crew, attempted rape, attempted murder, theft of rations, bone blasting winter storms, starvation and madness all whirled around the beleaguered crew, as mismatched as soup and sorbet. Unquestionably they could never have survived without the Inuit guides and interpreters who also found themselves on the floe. Tukulito, or Hannah as she was called by the crew and her husband, Ebierling, or Joe, along with Hans Christian and his wife were the group's real saviours. With their skills in hunting and Arctic survival, they calmly set about providing food and shelter. With the rest of the party including Germans, British, Swedish, Danish and American it's no wonder that camps were quickly formed and authority challenged. It was up to Tyson, the senior officer, to keep everything under control. How well he did that is left up to the reader, as well as is Kruger's role during these harrowing months.
Cherie Thiessen has been a scriptwriter, playwright, creative writing instructor and -- for the past 10 years -- a travel writer and book reviewer. She was the review columnist for Focus on Women Magazine for eight years and has also written numerous reviews for magazines including Monday Magazine, Pacific Yachting, Cottage Magazine, The Driftwood News, Linnear Reflections and Douglas College's Event Magazine.