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Midnight to the North: The Untold Story of the Inuit Woman Who Saved the Polaris Expedition

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In 1871, Charles Francis Hall's Polaris expedition set out to be the first official American party to reach the North Pole. Five months later, the Polaris had become locked in ice and Hall was dead-likely murdered. The expedition members were set adrift for six months on the icy seas: a fifteen-hundred-mile journey that all survived, thanks to the skills of Hall's translator, Tookoolito, a thirty-four-year-old woman subsequently referred to as the "Sacagawea of the Ice."

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Los Angeles, California, U.S.A. 2002 Hard Cover New in New jacket 6 x 8 1/2. First printing. New with minor shelfwear. Describes how an Inuit woman, Tookoolito, helped sustain a ... wildly various group of people thrown together in desperate circumstances, The Polaris expedition of 1871-1873. Read more Show Less

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Overview

In 1871, Charles Francis Hall's Polaris expedition set out to be the first official American party to reach the North Pole. Five months later, the Polaris had become locked in ice and Hall was dead-likely murdered. The expedition members were set adrift for six months on the icy seas: a fifteen-hundred-mile journey that all survived, thanks to the skills of Hall's translator, Tookoolito, a thirty-four-year-old woman subsequently referred to as the "Sacagawea of the Ice."

In Midnight to the North, Sheila Nickerson brings to life the emotional struggle of a wildly various group of people forced to stay together-despite one another's self-centered failings-during circumstances of extreme desperation. Imaginatively re-creating Tookoolito's life, she describes the Inuit woman's decades-long relationship with Hall; her presentation to the English court and experience as an exhibit in P. T. Barnum's museum; and the undermining of her sturdy faith in her native heritage by Hall's stern and often treacherous world.

A meticulously researched, gripping story of awesome peril and fascinating insight, Midnight to the North debunks contemporary Polaris accounts and reveals an untold side of Arctic exploration.

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Editorial Reviews

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The Arctic exploration ship Polaris set out in 1871 for the North Pole, the first official American party to do so. Less than five months later, the captain, Charles Francis Hall, was murdered by members of the crew. With the Polaris locked in ice, the remaining 19 crewmen were seemingly doomed. But they survived, thanks to Captain Hall's 34-year-old Inuit translator, a woman named Tookoolito.
Jennifer Niven
Through it all, Tookoolito emerges untouchable and enigmatic, and leaving you wanting to know more.
Publishers Weekly
Few Arctic exploration books offer a more compelling subject than Nickerson's account of Tookoolito, an Inuit woman she holds largely responsible for the survival of half the Polaris crew, who were stranded on an ice floe and abandoned by their ship in 1871. The book traces Tookoolito's life through the writings of the Polaris's original captain, Francis Hall, and George Tyson, the man in charge of the ice-floe party (who became Captain Tyson after Hall's mysterious demise). The story is engaging if slightly overwritten when it recounts the time when Hall was in command, explaining Tookoolito's life and experiences, as well as the ways she and her Inuit husband interacted with Westerners and Western society and vice versa. Nickerson is outstanding in illustrating Inuit customs, culture and legends; even seasoned readers of Arctic exploration books will learn something about Inuit ways. After Hall's death, however, the book suffers from a lack of information about Tookoolito, as Tyson and Tookoolito's husband, Ebierbing, emerge as strong characters. Much of this latter half of the story feels quickly told rather than carefully shown; Nickerson tries to compensate for the gaps with ramblings about, for instance, her research time in the library, astrophysics and her aging, ailing mother. These extraneous tidbits detract, and many readers will resent Nickerson's insertion of herself into what should be entirely Tookoolito's story. Still, the unique subject and Nickerson's real command of Inuit culture should carry the book through her digressions. (Mar.) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
An American explorer, Charles Francis Hall set out in 1871 to travel to the North Pole. His team traveled aboard the Polaris and included his translator, an Inuit woman named Tookoolito. Hall died within five months, the Polaris became trapped in ice, and his team ended up divided, with half stuck on a floating section of ice. Nickerson, the poet laureate of Alaska from 1977 to 1981 and a two-time winner of the Pushcart Prize, attempts to describe Tookoolito's life and how she helped the 19 team members survive on the ice for six and a half months. This book intertwines historical accounts of the time with Nickerson's recollections of the research process and her own sick mother. While successfully describing the hostile and difficult conditions faced by those trying to survive in the harsh northern climate, Nickerson's poetic recollections also seem ill matched to the rest of the book. In the initial chapters, she states that Tookoolito played a major part in the team's survival, but she rarely mentions her in the chapters describing the ice journey. Buy for the accurate descriptions of life in the North but not for women's studies collections. Alison Hopkins, Queens Borough P.L., NY Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Pushcart Prize-winner Nickerson (Disappearance: A Map, 1996) retells with glinting passion the revelatory story of Inuit explorer Tookoolito. The crux of the narrative concerns the disastrous 1871 Polaris expedition led by Charles Francis Hall, an incredible tale of how 19 people-a multinational assortment of American, Scandinavian, English, German, Prussian, Inuit, and African-American adventurers, including five children-survived six-and-a-half months in the high Arctic after their ship was stranded in the ice. But Nickerson is equally fascinated by two other elements of that saga: the role of Tookoolito in Hall's polar exploits; and the Arctic landscape, a hub of "water in motion and transformation" spoked by nine seas radiating southward from which there was truly nowhere else to go. The author brings to life a bizarre and wonderful world where the heavens let loose the aurora borealis, multiply suns and moons, arrange for halos and fata morgana (the land's strange and at times terrifying sounds). These surreal surroundings illuminate Tookoolito's life. Making maximum use of minimal source material, Nickerson sculpts a shadow portrait of the Inuit explorer, reimagining her understanding of the world and how she might have acted on the ice floe. Nickerson is a lapidary writer-it will come as little surprise to readers that she was poet laureate of Alaska from 1977 to 1981-and her understated tone inspires trust in her often conjectural conclusions. Few will argue with her depiction of Tookoolito as a woman who brought an Inuit sense of balance to outrageous circumstances, who translated and hunted, who knew tricks for survival ranging from keeping feet warm to keeping lamps burning,who read Hall's Bible but followed her shaman and (more importantly) her own instincts. A probing literary and historical contribution of consequence and beauty to the story of Arctic exploration, making a significant addition to the truncated record of women's achievements there.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781585421336
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA)
  • Publication date: 2/28/2002
  • Pages: 224
  • Product dimensions: 6.22 (w) x 9.36 (h) x 0.83 (d)

Meet the Author

Sheila Nickerson, author of the acclaimed Disappearance: A Map, is a two-time winner of the Pushcart Prize and was the poet laureate of Alaska from 1977 to 1981.

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Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted August 11, 2002

    great book!

    Sheila Nickerson¿s travel novel is about balance. The Polaris explorers had to realize that nature, tradition, and sexual cohabitation had to exist in order to see to the safety of the crew. Likewise, Nickerson¿s vivid imagery and profound technique equally interweaves the words, emotions and facts of the Polaris¿s harrowing experience in a fresh new way to an audience otherwise unaware of the impact that one brave female had on a historical quest for the lost Franklin expedition. One of the focuses of the novel is the struggle between Western European and Inuit tradition. The situations that the two cultures encountered magnified the sometimes polar approach that both cultures took in regards to marriage, birth, death, and treatment to the earth. The great thing about Nickerson is that she doesn¿t add personal beliefs or perspective on the biography. She states what was was and doesn¿t lead the reader to absolve either sides¿ approach to a difficult situation. Likewise, Nickerson equally represents the different religious beliefs. Neither Christianity nor Inuit¿s beliefs are shed in a one-sided manner. Yet both are represented as an added pressure in the dividing gap between European and Inuit culture. Additionally, the separation of religious homogony only strengthens Tookoolito¿s position as the glue that holds this expedition together as she stays true to her own heritage but is also open to Christianity. In regards to writing technique, Nickerson, who is the former Poet Laureate of Alaska, balances out prosaic form with beautiful poetic imagery. For instance, Nickerson uses the available imagery of the natural communion of earth and man to add the ironic spin of making the communion between woman and earth, ¿Just as the earth moves counterclockwise around the sun, so was Tookoolito moving counterclockwise, back to the Arctic, back to the swirling black hole of the white man¿s dreams¿ (42). Nickerson¿s words like these empower the fight for unknown female heroes like Tookoolito. But as much as she creates beautifully arranged images, Nickerson doesn¿t stray from the facts of the expedition. Skillfully, Nickerson shapes her own writing to strongly emulate the historical journals from John Hall and George Tyson. As I was reading, it felt like the historical passages could have been written by Nickerson herself. The pictures and illustrations were also a great balance to the tale. The extensive and exhausting research Nickerson put into this book paid off when I can read a paragraph and then turn to the next page to see a beautiful artistic recreation of what I just read. Not only did it help paint the picture it gave me a chance to see native art that is uncovered by Nickerson¿s boldness to speak for the nameless. The only criticism I have is that I didn¿t really see the point for the personal anecdotes and commentary. It seems to weaken the strength of the novel. It is interesting to get a peek into the research process, but otherwise, I felt it takes away from the overall feel of the story. However, to Nickerson¿s defense, whenever personal comments are made, it¿s very clear that Nickerson is speaking on behalf of herself alone and never crosses the line from opinion into fact. Otherwise, I think this is a wonderful book. I would recommend this to anyone who wants to get a clear, accurate, and underrepresented perspective on an exciting time in Arctic exploration. The book was an easy read that moved along very quickly. Thankfully, Nickerson carefully avoided making personal comments about controversial issues in regards to religion, culture, sexual treatment, or strata within the crew. Nickerson celebrates a variety of mediums in this one project. She uses both prose and poetic writing, visual art, historical fact, and cultural history while tying it together to make it relevant to contemporary readers and issues.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 22, 2002

    well written travel narrative

    I really enjoyed the tale. I would say that it is the combination of the The Perfect Storm by Sebastian Junger and the major motion picture, Dances with Wolves. That combination renders itself to be full of conflict and friction. Sheila Nickerson creates a splendid atmosphere of constant friction: friction between man and self, man and man, man and nature, European, Christian culture and Inuit, polytheistic culture. Nickerson adds all of these elements together in an exciting and well-crafted piece of non-fiction literature. Her writing fits so well with the actual journals of the seamen of the journey that it seemed like she was present during such an exciting moment in northern exploration. I felt that she also addressed in a very dogmatic way the issue of sexual inconsistencies between white male dominion of euro-exploration and the utter dependence they had upon an Eskimo woman. All together the novel is well worth the read. As for length, it was a fairly quick read. I finished it in two days with the ability to read slow enough for detail and enjoyment. That is exactly what this book was--an enjoyment.

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