Book Review: An African in Greenland by Tété-Michel Kpomassie


Around The World For a Good Book selection for: Togo

Author: Tété-Michel Kpomassie
Title: An African in Greenland
Publication Info: New York : New York Review Books, [2001] (Originally published in 1981)
ISBN: 9780940322882

Summary/Review:

Kpomassie, who grew up in a traditional society in Togo, writes a charming, insightful and very human account about his year living among the traditional societies of Greenland.  The story begins when Kpomassie is a boy and is injured in a fall from a tree.   In his convalescence he comes across a book about the Eskimos and finds himself obsessed with the idea of visiting Greenland.  After 10 years working his way across Africa and Europe, earning money and travel visas, Kpomassie finally arrives by ship on the shores of Greenland.

Kpomassie seeks out the most remote and traditional Inuit villages he can reach and enjoys the hospitality of many villages, forms friendships, and by the end of the book expresses the desire to live out his days in Greenland.  There are some great scenes of hunting for seal, fishing, community gatherings, and a ride across the ice by dogsled (and the embarrassment of falling off).  There’s also a dark side to Greenland as Kpomassie observes the loss of traditional culture to Danish colonialism, widespread underemployment and the ensuing poverty and alcoholism.  The sunless winter in the most remote village Kpomassie visits is especially depressing.

I broke my rule of focusing on fiction for my Around The World For a Good Book project because I could not resist the cross-cultural premise of a man from an African traditional society visiting the traditional cultures of Greenland.  Part travelogue, part memoir, and part anthropology, this is one of my favorite books I’ve read thus far this year.

Recommended books: The Silent Traveler series by Chiang Yee shares a similar warm, humanist style of observation and interaction of people from different cultures.
Rating: ****1/2

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