PUBLISHED: 11:30 AM on Wednesday, June 18, 2008
'Jorgy' a direct and vivid tale of an Alaskan pilot's journeys
Jorgy: The Life of Native Alaskan Bush Pilot and Airline Captain Holger "Jorgy" Jorgensen, as told to Jean Lester. Ester Republic Press, 268 pp., $25.

Turbulence and fire are the only things that ever bothered Holger "Jorgy" Jorgensen in an airplane. The reindeer trying to enter the cockpit didn't faze him at all.

The Native Alaskan pilot has lived an extraordinary life. Born in the remote village of Haycock to an Inupiat mother and a Norwegian gold-miner father in 1927, Jorgy grew up living a subsistence lifestyle and worked in the gold mines as teenager. He helped desegregate the Nome movie theatre by refusing to budge from his seat in the "white" section. And he went on to become a legendary aviator, flying all over bush Alaska and then all across the world.

Jean Lester, his "conduit," gives us the next best thing to sitting down with Jorgensen to hear his life story. "Jorgy," the oral autobiography Lester has compiled, includes a carefully transcribed narrative of Jorgensen's life along with letters and comments with Jorgensen's family and colleagues.

"No amount of prodding could make Jorgy give colourful adjectives and drama to his stories," Lester notes in her introduction.

This is not to say Jorgensen's stories are not dramatic, only that Jorgensen remained as cool and calm in his telling as he was in his career as a pilot flying in some of the most difficult conditions imaginable.

At one point in his narrative, Jorgy sees his life flash before his eyes in one or two seconds. Jorgy reads like the transcription of what he saw. His narrative is direct and vivid, detailed yet concise.

As the 50th anniversary of statehood kicks off this week, we'll be hearing and reading a lot of takes on Alaskan history. "Jorgy" sets out to tell the story of an extraordinary pilot and along the way tells the history of Alaskan aviation. After reading "Jorgy," I have a hard time thinking of a more interesting perspective on state history than through the window of an early Native bush pilot.

Jorgy is available from Hearthside Books. Visit the book's blog at

-Katie Spielberger