Saturday, April 30, 2011

Greenland or bust: a review

Thanks for all your well-wishes and kudos on the previous post, readers! Today, I'm yet again trying my hand at book bloggerhood. I'd been wanting to read An African in Greenland for a while since it had been recommended to me by a number of sources whose reading tastes I trust. I've never been a great reader of travel writing, despite loving both traveling and reading. It's probably because, for better or worse, my reading list seems to be always dominated by fiction. Nevertheless, I had some time open in my reading calendar this month, and with the coming of warm weather, it finally seemed an appropriate time to dive into a tale of travels in the Arctic Circle.

An African in Greenland is appropriately titled as it is the memoirs of Tete-Michel Kpomassie, a Togolese man, who as a teen in the 1960s, decides to travel to Greenland and live among the Inuits. Interestingly, his desire comes from reading a book about Greenland he finds in a Jesuit bookstore shortly after he is attacked and nearly killed by a python in the jungle. It seems that a big part of the appeal of Greenland to the 16-year-old was that there are no snakes in the country and no trees for them to hide in. His journey to Greenland takes him nearly 10 years as he slowly makes his way through West Africa and Europe. However, as the title would suggest, the vast majority of the book takes place on the largest island in the world.

Kpomassie is perhaps the first African to travel to this part of the world, and in many cases he is the first black man the native Greenlanders have ever seen. As such he is treated with immense curiosity, but also extreme hospitality. In the entirety of his journey, he is always given a roof over his head rent-free just be knocking on the door of houses and inquiring. He is a shrewd observer and presents the customs of the people he encounters--both the good and the questionable--with minimal judgment, although he does naturally compare them to customs of his own people. The book is an excellent introduction to life in the Arctic and Inuit culture. It is at times extremely humorous and at others very bleak. The author does touch on some of the darker sides of Greenland life: 6-month polar nights, alcoholism, and starving huskies eating infants to name a few. Some images, such as the skinning of a seal and the eating of the raw blubber, are particularly visceral. Other descriptions, such as the enormous fjords or aurora borealis are almost enough to make me add Greenland to my travel list. For now, I'll lump it in with the "upper Canada" category.

Overall, I enjoyed this book a great deal. Which I guess makes this less of an objective "review" and more just an advertisement. After all, I wouldn't waste time blogging about a book that was only so-so. Astorian Dream is nothing without standards.

1 comment:

  1. Hmm sounds interesting! I found it hard to read non-fiction as well. I keep feeling like I should make the leap but I just love my fiction so much!. :)