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An African in Greenland (New York Review Books Classics) [Paperback]

Kpomassie Tete-Michel , A. Alvarez
3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
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Book Description

24 April 2003 New York Review Books Classics
Tété-Michel Kpomassie was a teenager in Togo when he discovered a book about Greenland—and knew that he must go there. Working his way north over nearly a decade, Kpomassie finally arrived in the country of his dreams. This brilliantly observed and superbly entertaining record of his adventures among the Inuit is a testament both to the wonderful strangeness of the human species and to the surprising sympathies that bind us all.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 300 pages
  • Publisher: The New York Review of Books, Inc (24 April 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0940322889
  • ISBN-13: 978-0940322882
  • Product Dimensions: 20.4 x 12.8 x 2.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 318,834 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

3.8 out of 5 stars
3.8 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A delightfully funny and exotic travel book 15 Jan 2003
By M Hill
Format:Paperback
The title says it all. In a market full of travel books about American/English travellers going to Europe, An African in Greenland turns the format on its head for a Western audience. Tete-Michel escapes being inducted into a snake cult by following his boyhood dream of living with the Eskimoes.
The reality of life in Greenland is not so glamourous, with meals of raw, bloody blubber in the middle of winter butchered only feet from the communal piss bucket in the front room and numerous drunken fights. But Kpomassie finds himself falling in love with this remote culture nontheless.
A wonderful adventure.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Worthwhile 17 Sep 2007
Format:Paperback
This book was published in 1981 and centers on the author's adventures around 1966-67 in Greenland, the ice-covered island the size of Europe with a tiny population scattered along the coast.

Born in French Togoland in West Africa, Kpomassie developed a passionate interest in Greenland after reading about it as a teenager. He left home shortly afterward in 1958 and, having little money, spent eight years working his way through Ghana, Senegal, France, Germany and Denmark before finally boarding a ship for his ultimate destination. It appears he was the first black African to visit Greenland, and his descriptions of his reception on arrival there are among the book's highlights.

Landing near the island's southwestern tip, he traveled slowly up the western coast, staying for long periods of time with friendly families who kindly took him in. He'd hoped to reach the town of Thule in the northwest, but made it only two-thirds of the way before deciding to return home to share his experiences with his countrymen. Though he never reached his final destination or got to live in an igloo like he'd planned, he enjoyed many other experiences such as driving a dogsled, seeing icebergs up close and fishing on the ice.

His descriptions of people and landscapes were impressive, bleak though they were at times. There were many scenes of poverty, squalor, boredom and heavy drinking among the locals. On the other hand, nearly everyone was very open and sharing with him. The writer was a good observer and often compared local practices with those of his own culture to find differences and similarities.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars One of the oddest travel books ever written 19 Aug 2008
Format:Paperback
One of the most unusual travel books ever written, covering two exotic societies in the eyes of the west: animist West Africa and the eskimos of Greenland. Written originally in french about 25 years ago, and covering events happening in the 50s and 60s, the book starts as Tete-Michel Kpomassie, a teenager in his native Togo, nearly dies in a fall from a tree. After that, his father sends him to a local python cult in the jungle to cure him. In gratitude, the father decides Tete is destined to become a priest in the cult. But Tete has another ideas. While recovering from his injuries, he finds by chance a book about Greenland and became obsessed with the idea of going there. By a sustained effort of will, Kpomassie worked his way through Africa and Europe before arriving in Greenland after several years. Being possibly the first African to visit Greenland, and the first black person most of the Greenlanders had ever seen, he becomes a minor celebrity. He travels up north through the coast of west Greenland, stopping in several villages, where he was invariably taken into someone's home as a guest. He candidly writes about his shock about what he saw as a lack of personal hygiene on the part of the greenlanders as well as their sexual promiscuity. Kpomassie is an excellent observer. The first chapters are wonderful, as he let us see an animist society from the inside. And his travels in Greenland are fascinating too.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
By Mary Whipple HALL OF FAME TOP 100 REVIEWER
Format:Paperback
Many obvious ironies occur as Tete-Michel Kpomassie, a young man from Togo in West Africa, makes a journey of discovery to Greenland. For the first sixty pages, the author describes life in Togo in lively detail and his decision to go to Greenland, a country as far, culturally, from Togo as it is possible to get. Over the course of ten years, he travels through Ghana, the Ivory Coast, Senegal, and Mauritania, before arriving in Marseille, Paris, Bonn, and eventually Copenhagen. During this time, he reads constantly, learning about life in other parts of the world, becoming fluent in German and French, and sensitively observing the differences between his culture and those of the other countries in Africa and Europe. By the time he gets a visa for Greenland, he is twenty-six, a highly skilled "anthropologist," having learned what he needs to know through his own unconventional daily life.

In June, sometime in the mid-1960s, he leaves at last for Greenland, ill-equipped but full of enthusiasm, trusting in his ability to make his way in that country and to become part of the Eskimo culture there. Leaving in a cargo boat with eight other passengers, he enjoys the long days of the midnight sun, which are then lead to ice floes and icebergs as he approaches Cape Farewell, the southernmost tip of Greenland. His arrival in "K'akortoq" is as exciting for the inhabitants as it is for Kpomassie: "So intense was the silence, you could have heard a gnat in flight."

The local inhabitants are universally hospitable, providing a place for him to stay and sharing meals and drink. Their children are allowed to do what they want, with little discipline.
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