Get me off this ice floe!

The rain and cold are kicking my ass. Likely I am a bit physically weak from not doing much while I was sick. At least I can breathe really really well. (Yay steroids) But damn, I’m really worn down by pain, the last few days.

I can walk but it’s slow and creaky. This morning I woke up aching so hard. I moved around in all directions in bed, progressed to PT exercises, then got up and forced myself to walk around and pick things up off the floor. Unstiffening is good. Oh, for last week when the sun was out and I was full of strange vigor and I felt like being alive.

Distraction is the most helpful thing & also it passes the time so I can endure this grinding annoyance until I can legitimately be unconscious again. In short – I am cranky.

Before I got up and while doing slow leg lifts and stretches I read “Ice Drift”, a very dull book about two Inuit boys adrift on an ice floe. It’s hard to convey how dull it was for something that should be good. Plodding! Untrustworthy-feeling! Stilted As-You-Know-Bob dialogue on every single page! And pointlessness. It was like two pieces of cardboard, spouting bits of children’s encyclopedia entries to each other!

The afterword was the best bit, where the author explains that the real story that inspired him was the story of some of the crew of the ship Polaris in 1871, 19 people including 2 Inuit men 2 Inuit women, and 5 of their children, stranded on an ice floe for six months. The author read the manuscripts from the Captain and two crew members. “In the end, rather than attempt to boil down the mass of information about Tyson’s ordeal — the many characters, the murder of the Polaris master, the near mutiny, the shameful treatment of the Inuit — I decided to write a novel about two young boys who were forced to go on a similar journey.” A novel in which white people show up in their ship only to nicely give the boys a ride home and cheer for them.

There is also a bit from 3rd person omniscient focused on the kids’ mom who bravely sets out against her husband’s wishes, risking death and divorce to rescue them, but is warned by two big burly men to turn back, and then turns back. That’s after she and her husband go out to find them the first time and turn back after 1 day when they realize they were too stupid to bring any food with them. Why was that scene even necessary!

Why not write the story of the Polaris in all its complexity, from the point of view of one of the kids? I just re-read Treasure Island and was impressed with its moral complexity… and thought of how I loved it when I was little. The book I read this morning had none — zero, zilch, nada.

Also, I couldn’t get past the younger boy being named “Sulu”. Elementary school kids might not have this problem but for me it was a hurdle!

IN the book instead of being people who kill, kidnap you, and take you to be exhibited in museums, as well as setting off on polar expeditions that are complete clusterfucks because they all have their heads up their asses; instead of that, the white people on the ships are competent and benevolent – everything they do benefits the Inuit. Even the wrecked ship the Reliance is dismantled and its wood used by the Inuit to make their only “real village” of Nunatak with “even a proud community hall building, courtesy of the Reliance wood” as opposed to what they were before which was a “collection of temporary makeshift huts and iglu“. With this totally non subtle subtext like, “even the accidental garbage left over from our total failures helped immeasurably to civilize the childlike natives.”

It is a good book for this blog, American Indians in Children’s Literature, to take apart. I’m going to write to Debbie Reese and suggest it.

The best account of the actual ice floe journey that I could find:
http://www.oldnewspublishing.com/story1.htm

Doesn’t it sound like everyone on the Polaris was going mad from slow arsenic poisoning? and the Captain just got the most lethal dose?

Here’s some details about the Inuit who were on the ice floe. Unlike the Inuit in the “Ice Drift” book, these people were well acquainted with white folks. Hell, they had met Queen Victoria.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tookoolito
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ebierbing
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hans_Hendrik – innnnnnteresting, Hans Hendrik wrote a book: “Memoirs of Hans Hendrik, the Arctic traveller, serving under Kane, Hayes, Hall and Nares, 1853–1876, by himself ”

Well, that’s how I spent my morning, obsessing over the ways that this type of “historical” fiction actually erases history in a way that is stupid, dull, inaccurate, simplistic, and racist, all in the guise of educating young people.

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4 Responses to “Get me off this ice floe!”

  1. Debbie Reese



    Hello! Thanks for this review, and for visiting and recommending my site. I’ll add it to my list of books to critique. I sure do wish that was a small and ever-getting-smaller pile, but so many people write books about Native people that the pile grows and grows. It’d be cool if, in that pile, there were many good books, but that’s not the case. Most are like what you found…

  2. Pretty Lady



    Well, at least if it’s boring and badly written, it’s not influencing too many people. I’ve always been amazed at the way you actually FINISH reading lousy books. My tolerance for that sort of thing is about three paragraphs.

  3. badgerbag



    I do have something of a tolerance or even a fascination with them. This was about a 20 minute read, so not too painful.
    It was the hour of reading about the Polaris and the suspected poisoning of the Captain that took up all the time!

  4. Susan Sanford



    Try Skeletons on the Zahara, by Dean King. Not a YA book, but a wonderful survival story and the epilogue moved me to tears.

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