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The Lamp, the Ice, and the Boat Called Fish

children's book / cover image / The Lamp, the Ice, and the Boat Called Fish

Martin tells part of the true story of the crew of the explorer vessel Karluk surviving on barren ice and islands north of the Arctic Circle, for almost a year (1913-1914).

Full Review

In 1913 the Karluk (Aleut for “fish”) was commissioned for exploration and study of the plants and people of the far north, but in the very first winter it was crushed in ice. This biography relates a remarkable struggle, yet tells it without color.

Even at a high point in the story, only an exclamation point indicates excitement.  We are simply told that,

“A large, sharp point of ice was breaking through the side of the boat!… The ship’s doctor fell into the sea and had to be pulled to safety.”

People who struggled and died are given as much importance as dogs or worn clothes. The title itself is a clue to this perspective: human survival is merely a sidenote.

Politically correct attention is directed toward an uneducated Eskimo family. The tale opens describing the life of the grandmother, and a lamp that is a family heirloom. It only briefly reappears when the gran-daughter momentarily wishes it was magical. The Ice is unforgiving, and the most human element, the Boat, sank. The Inuit family’s importance ultimately lay in the sewing of fur garments and hunting, rather than in their original role as interpreters.

The B&W photos showing those who survived suggest there really was an adventure after all.

The back of the book presents a map of the route taken by the Karluk, showing its icebound drift from North shore Alaska to Wrangel island north of Siberia! This remarkable difficulty is not discussed in the text, yet explains much about the challenges the crew dealt with. There are interesting details in this book, but other sources are more worthwhile.

The slightly better On Sand Island, also by J B Martin, suffers from similar problems.