Roberts seems to have written this one at the speed of research, each failed fax, unreturned phone call or indecipherable passage leading to another ready, eye-rolling anecdote. As such, the book's a bit like an old episode of "The Rockford Files": Roberts gets constantly tripped up, sidelined or denied, but we trust that somehow he'll still get his men -- or, at least, find their long lost shack.
The author of Escape from Lucania uncovers an extraordinary tale, set in the mid-18th century, about four Russian hunters stranded on a desolate Arctic isle with scant resources, who survived for six years. Initially, Roberts is so preoccupied with debunking earlier histories of the shipwreck that the drama barely comes to life. He fumes at the shortcomings of other historians such as the "pomposities" and "basic mistakes" of the writer P.L. Le Roy. But these records give the author significant information as he embarks on his own Arctic journey in order to better understand his subjects. Luckily, few things can get in the way of a good story, and when Roberts manages to get out of his own way, he captures it with precise, thoughtful prose. With each discovery and every interview, he pieces together the mystery of how the four men actually survived. Whether detailing how these men fashioned clothing from animal hides, drank the warm blood of reindeer to prevent scurvy or crafted bows and arrows from "driftwood, polar bear tendons, flattened nails, and bird feathers," Roberts succeeds in creating an inspirational survival story. (Nov.) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
A flabbergasting, if leisurely paced, story of survival in the Far North during the 18th century, shrouded by the enjoyable mystery of half-understood but decidedly atavistic circumstances. A voracious fan of adventure-travel literature, Roberts (Escape from Luciania, 2002, etc.) came across a fragmentary report of four Russian walrus-hunters who were shipwrecked on the Svarlbard Archipelago in the high Arctica collection of barren plateaus, made of basalt, glaciers, and bad weather, wild and elemental and described precisely hereand survived for six years, from 1743 until 1749, having carried ashore exactly one musket, a bag of flour, and a pouch of tobacco. Although Roberts must rely chiefly on the narrative of Pierre Le Roy, whom he takes to task (at times to the point of irritation) for "scholarly pretension," "odd discrepencies," and the "annoyance and distrust" he provokes in Roberts, he is also an archival ferret, digging up plenty of tantalizing references. But most of all, Roberts is simply agog that the men survived so long in a treeless place fabled for its polar-bear population, a creature that considers humans altogether choice fare. The story is a chain of questsof "the shadowy Klingstedt, the fugitive artifacts, the vanished ‘X’ on the map." Roberts and a small band of comrades visit the island where the Russian whalers likely spent their 2,000 days. He learns, from talking to northern Russian locals, how the men may have passed the long, dark time: keeping Saints' Days, doing daily chores, and engaging in the art of knot-tying ("each [hunter] ties a rope into an endless number of knots, now again unties it, and thus, now tying the knots, now undoing themagain, spends nearly half the winter"). Caveats aside, dogged research and hard travel to distant places make for a gem in the literature of survival under dire conditions. Agent: Stuart Krichevsky