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How I Survived: Four Nights on the Ice

by Serapio Ittusardjuat and Matthew K. Hoddy (ill.)

Simultaneously published in English and Inuktitut, the graphic novel How I Survived is a true story of Arctic survival written by Serapio Ittusardjuat, an Inuk stone carver and former mechanic. As the narrator-protagonist, Ittusardjuat methodically and purposefully recalls the details of his harrowing experience stranded on sea ice. At the start he states, “I never thought that I would not survive, because I had been taught how to deal with danger.” Ittusardjuat retells the story in a calm, deliberate manner with an absence of hyperbole. After the first day on the ice, he says, “I had woken up very thirsty, so I turned my attention to that.”

Traditional knowledge frames this contemporary story, imparted panel by panel. Ittusardjuat explains that “eating ice was not an option” because while small amounts are harmless, in sub-zero environments ice can freeze the mouth and lead to hypothermia. Readers who share the author’s mechanical inclinations will understand the gravity of the situation when they learn that the pull cord on his engine had broken and the choke was leaking gas.

Bright light and dark shadows are central to Australian-born Matthew K. Hoddy’s artwork. Soft blues and greys set off large expanses of white that compose the barren landscape. Snowmobile tracks criss-cross the pristine terrain and the word “Vroom” is spelled out comic-book-style in a bold splash of red. Details such as a framed portrait of Ittusardjuat and his wife fill in information omitted in the lean text. A small-scale inset map to accompany the full-spread map of Ittusardjuat’s journey would have helped those unfamiliar with the geography of the Arctic archipelago.

This beautifully designed, highly engaging graphic novel should engross both reluctant readers and those seeking adventure.