Nickerson, Sheila, MIDNIGHT TO THE NORTH: The Untold Story of the Inuit Woman Who Saved the Polaris Expedition. Tarcher/Putnam $24.95
Sheila Nickerson is, of course, a past Alaskan Poet Laureate and a sensitive writer. The theme is simple; she wanted to write about an Inuit woman and if possible draw a parallel with her own life. She chose Tookoolito, a woman from Baffin Bay who had been presented at Queen Victoriaís court and was later hired as an interpreter in 1860 by Charles Francis Hall, the doomed Arctic explorer.
Hall died and his successor on the Polaris during the confusion arising when it was thought the ship was sinking, sailed away from the party on the ice rescuing provisions.
For six months the survivors drifted through the icebergs off Greenland, with only the prospect of the floe they were traveling on melting when it hit the warmer waters of the North Atlantic. It is a thrilling story, but unsatisfactory in this version.
Nickerson thinks of Tookoolito as the heroine, but to the reader the real hero is the Inuit husband, Ebiering, a great hunter, who kept the other 18 alive with his hunting skills.
Try as she might, the author simply canít get inside the mind of a mid-nineteenth century Inuit woman. She remains shadowy.
Perhaps in frustration with this situation, Hallís life is examined, although there again, since most his records and jounrals have disappeared, once again the report is incomplete. George Tyson, the author of the only written account of the drift on the ice floe and a rather unpleasant man from all accounts, is another disappointment. Why didnít his book sell better? Certainly the arrival of the party back in the States was an immediate sensation, as it would be today. There were no clouds of cannabilism or exaggeration even suggested, so why didnít Tyson promptly hit the lecture circuit and find his book a bestseller?
The research is impeccable, the writing lucid, but there are too many unfinished stories to make this a satisfactory book. However, this reviewer eagerly awaits Nickersonís next book.