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An African in Greenland (New York Review Books Classics) Paperback – 24 Apr 2003

4.0 out of 5 stars 7 customer reviews

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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: 12.7 x 2.3 x 20.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 388,561 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

About the Author

Alvarez is the author of numerous books and anthologies of poetry, fiction, nonfiction, and criticism. He is also a frequent contributor to the New Yorker and the New York Review of Books and perhaps the only published poet ever to participate in the World Series of Poker.


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Top Customer Reviews

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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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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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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Format: Paperback
Fascinating travel book, in which the reader encounters two vastly different societies. The author describes his young life in Togo, culminating in a visit to a - wonderfully described - python priestess, with all her voodoo paraphernalia.
Inspired by a book on the Eskimos, which he finds on the bookshelf of the local mission, he determines to go to Greenland; the next section of the book explains his lengthy journey across Europe, and the helpful people he met en route. Some years on, he finds himself in S Greenland, and here begins the main part of the tale, as he makes his way from the relatively westernized Julianehab to the north. Life becomes increasingly brutal, dirty and harsh as he enters the real Greenlandic world.

Highly readable and full of interesting facts: the criminal system; Arctic 'madness'; the dogs - who live a hard life, and can turn on humans and kill, and who are another source of food for the Greenlanders. The author compares the native beliefs in spirits which have a parallel with those in Africa.
And, above all, vivid descriptions of the place, such as his first experience of the Northern Lights:
"Suddenly looking up, I saw long white streaks whirling in the wind above my head. It was like the radiance of some invisible hearth, from which dazzling light rays shot out, streamed into space, and spread to form a great deep-folded phosphorescent curtain which moved and shimmered, turning rapidly from white to yellow, from pink to red...the wind shook it gently like an immense transparent drapery ...Its movements were now regular as an ocean swell, now hurried, jerky, leaping and tumbling like a kite."

Great read.
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