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In the Land of White Death

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In the Land of White Death: An Epic Story of Survival in the Siberian Arctic
By Valerian Albanov and Translated from Russian by Alison Anderson. (New York: Modern Library; Expanded edition, 2000. Pg 288. Maps, Illustrations.) ISBN: 0-6797-8361-X.

Reviewed by Rochelle Caviness - July 29, 2001

In 1912, the Saint Anna sailed from Alexandrovsk (Murmansk) Russia, bound for Vladivostok, about 7,000 miles away. The Saint Anna was under the command of Georgiy Brusilov. Brusilov was an overly self-confident man who planned to enter the annals of history as the leader of the second expedition to successfully navigate the Northeast Passage. While this may seem like a honorable goal, his main prupose in organizing the expedition was not for the purposes of exploration, but rather to open a new, and lucrative, hunting ground in the frozen North.

Brusilov gathered about him a crew of 23, including a young woman by the name of Yerminiya Zhdanko. Zhdanko came aboard as a nurse, in place of the doctor that Brusilov had failed to obtain for the voyage. Of the 23 crew members, only five were real sailors. The rest of the crew primarily consisted of professional hunters. One of these real sailors was thirty-two-year-old Valerian Ivanovich Albanov, who served as ship's navigator and second in command.

To be blunt, the voyage of the Saint Anna was doomed almost before it set sail. This was due in part to a series of setbacks, including the fact that several essential people, such as the doctor who should have been on the ship, missed the sailing. As well, the ship was ill provisioned (while there was enough food, Brusilov forgot to stock antiscorbutics, so the crew came down with scurvy) and it left port later in the season than was practical. All these events, plus Brusilov's leadership, helped to ensure the expeditions failure.

The Saint Anna left Alexandrovsk on August 28, 1912. On September 4th, the ship sailed into the Kara Sea, by October 15th, the Saint Anna was firmly trapped in the ice. In the Land of White Death is the chilling account of this doomed voyage and the daring escape attempt made by fourteen members of the crew who left the ship after it became trapped, and tried to walk to safety across the wind swept ice. The escape attempt was led by Albanov, who kept a journal of their epic journey. Albanov, who was also one of the survivors of the expedition, wrote a book about the adventure after he returned to civilization. Part of his book consisted of his surviving journal entries, and the part of his recollections of the trip. In the Land of White Death is the first English translation of this remarkable story. The only changes to the book are the addition of explanatory notes, a preface by Jon Krakauer, and a detailed introduction by David Roberts. This introduction explains how he came across the story and includes some additional tidbits of information about the ill-fated voyage of the Saint Anna and what became of Albanov and the rest of the crew.

This is a phenomenal, heart pounding story that is a testament to the strength and willpower of the men who attempted to escape the trapped ship. This story is bound to become a classic for those interested in Arctic Exploration, Polar history, or simply for those who appreciate a no-holds-bared, life-or-death story of man against nature. Albanov's words paint an all too realistic picture of the hardships that he and his men endured. So realistic in fact that you can almost see the wind swept sea, the towering glaciers, and the charging polar bears. In many regards, this book reads like a work of fiction, the story is so unbelievable that it is hard to imagine how anyone survived. Yet it is a true story. A story that grabs you immediately and will not let you rest until you have read the last page and sworn to yourself that you would never do anything so risky - or would you?

This book is enhanced by pictures of the Saint Anna and Albanov, and by the addition of historical maps. These maps show the area in which this astounding adventure took place, the route traveled by the Saint Anna, and the route traveled by Albanov on his 235-mile trek to safety.

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