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16 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A delightfully funny and exotic travel book
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...
Published on 15 Jan 2003 by M Hill

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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Worthwhile
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...
Published on 17 Sep 2007 by Reader in Tokyo


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16 of 16 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 (Kent, England) - See all my reviews
This review is from: An African in Greenland (New York Review Books Classics) (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
This review is from: An African in Greenland (New York Review Books Classics) (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. He was interested especially in how children were indulged, how the adults got along with each other, treatment of the elderly, beliefs and rituals concerning death, prohibitions on killing certain animals, and so on.

Descriptions of some of the people he met were memorable, as were those of things like riding a dogsled, the local diet, the packs of half-starved dogs running around the villages, the absence of trees, the extreme cold and the polar night. One night, he was astonished to see the aurora borealis for the first time, though the locals were so used to it they didn't bother to look outside.

Most admirable to me were the author's good sense, quiet humor and ability to adapt to each new experience. How can you not admire someone who traveled to such a different place and embraced it? And for the most part, the local Inuit people embraced him. A lesson reinforced by this book was that despite all the cultural and language differences, people are people, and they can find ways to relate so long as they keep an open mind.

A sample of his writing from late in the book, after he planned to leave: "Now that I had been sharing these people's lives for sixteen months, their food no longer disgusted me, and I thought nothing of eating a breakfast of seal fat and dried intestines every morning . . .

"'But we'd be glad to have you with us always!' old Mattaaq kept telling me. 'We know you. Do you want for anything here? We have everything a man needs--seals and fish in the sea beyond counting. You know that, because you hunt and fish with my sons . . . But I understand you very well. After so many years away from them, you don't know what's become of your own folk, and you want to go back and see them, don't you?'

"He may have been right. Do people ever know their true reason for embarking on a long journey? So many causes, motives and impulses intertwine to form the semblance of a reason."

As a parting gift, the author's given a handmade necklace made from the tooth and claw of a polar bear. He writes, "My own grandfather would have made the same gesture with the same intention, using the trophies of a leopard; but he would have chosen a remote spot and a twilight hour, spoken arcane words, and enlisted all those minute preliminaries and accessories which, by swathing this simple act in mystery, would have given it increased significance. But here, in the land of the great cold, the daily ritual was stripped of that display. Here life was hard, and the pursuit of food more urgent than in the tropics."

If there was anything I missed in this book, it was more description by the author of his travels' effect on his own emotions and thinking. He described actions, beliefs and other people well, but wasn't really that introspective.

Though the author returned initially to Togo, eventually he went back to France, took French citizenship and lives there. Judging from this book, his perceptions of what it's like to live in France between cultures would surely be of interest. Unfortunately for those who read only English, it appears that nothing else he's written has been translated from the French.
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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
By 
Andres C. Salama (Buenos Aires, Argentina) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: An African in Greenland (New York Review Books Classics) (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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5.0 out of 5 stars An Amazing True Story, 28 Jun 2014
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This review is from: An African in Greenland (New York Review Books Classics) (Paperback)
I ordered this book after a friend recommended to me and I was not disappointed.

The author Tete-Michel Kpomassie seems like a very charismatic and humorous man with a keen insight into human behavior.
His exploration journey through Greenland is a joy to read even though the situations he describes are sometimes quite grave.

The only minus I see with it is that the author seems to willingly brush over certain areas such as his numerous love affairs and relationships without a reaching a firm conclusion of how they came to an end.

On the whole it's a fascinating book about the magical world of Greenland.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars strange but interesting, 11 Nov 2013
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This review is from: An African in Greenland (New York Review Books Classics) (Paperback)
it is strange to read about a black guy been in living in Greenland. It is readable enough to hear his stories. Sometimes you feel he is a bit too critic with the inuit people, but whatever, he is the writer and main actor.
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1 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars "As soon as they saw me, all talking stopped. So intense was the silence, you could have heard a gnat in flight.", 8 April 2014
By 
Mary Whipple (New England) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: An African in Greenland (New York Review Books Classics) (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. Though people work for most of the day when there is sunlight, they get "tanked up" early at night and celebrate all occasions, with a whole month dedicated to celebrating Christmas. The Inuit willingly provide him with the fur clothing he needs in the winter, and the women in the families with whom he stays make him the specially sized boots and garments that he needs.

With a wonderful eye for the telling detail, Kpomassie observes the differences between the world in which he grew up, the world in which he has lived in Europe, and the world of Greenland. He becomes real, a stand-in for the reader who lives through his journey vicariously. The people he meets not only represent their culture but emerge as individuals through their interactions with him. Despite language differences, he is able to communicate and share their lives, and because of his honesty and his curiosity about their culture, he makes many friends. His eventual departure from Greenland is bittersweet, inspired by his "duty to help the youth of Africa to open their minds to the outside world." His return to Europe and his later life as a citizen of the world, are testimony to his sense of adventure and his commitment to looking beyond the local to the universal.
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An African in Greenland (New York Review Books Classics)
An African in Greenland (New York Review Books Classics) by Kpomassie Tete-Michel (Paperback - 24 April 2003)
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