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An African in Greenland (New York Review Books Classics) Paperback – October 31, 2001

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Product Details

  • Series: New York Review Books Classics
  • Paperback: 432 pages
  • Publisher: NYRB Classics (October 31, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0940322889
  • ISBN-13: 978-0940322882
  • Product Dimensions: 8 x 5 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (23 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #438,875 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Language Notes

Text: English, French (translation) --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

About the Author

TETE-MICHEL KPOMASSIE was born in Togo in 1941 and now lives in France. He left elementary school after six years and received the rest of his education in the course of his extensive travels in Europe and Africa. In 1981 he was awarded the Prix Littéraire Francophone for An African in Greenland.

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Customer Reviews

The man is amazing and beautiful - there are photos!
Jane E. Applebee
What's really unexpected about this book is that Kpomassie finds a Greenland and an Inuit or Eskimo people, who are--it seems to me--in a cultural upheaval.
T. M. Teale
Those who favor biographies, memoirs, and adventure will probably love this too, but it is a surprisingly appealing read even to strict fiction readers.

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

19 of 19 people found the following review helpful By woburnmusicfan on September 17, 2003
Format: Paperback
When author Kpomassie was a teenager in his native Togo in the '50s, he nearly died in a fall, and was pledged by his father to become a priest of the python cult that cured him. While looking for a way around this future, he happened upon a book about Greenland and became obsessed with the idea of moving there and becoming a hunter. Over the course of several years, Kpomassie worked his way across West Africa and Europe before arriving in Greenland in the early '60s. He was possibly the first African to visit Greenland, and was the first black person most of the Greenlanders had ever seen. He became a minor celebrity ("I've heard about you on the radio since you arrived in the south"), as the locals, particularly children and young women, swarmed around the exotic stranger. As he made his way up the coast of west Greenland, he stopped in several towns, where he was invariably taken into someone's home as a guest and treated to fine delicacies like seal blubber and mattak (beluga whale skin).
Kpomassie is an excellent observer, and this book is as good an introduction to Greenlandic culture as Gretel Ehrlich's "This Cold Heaven". Kpomassie is a much more straightforward writer than Ehrlich, and this book therefore makes an easier read. The reader gets to learn about two exotic cultures: Kpomassie's tales of his upbringing in the Mina tribe of Togo is as interesting as his travels in Greenland.
(1=poor 2=mediocre 3=pretty good 4=very good 5=phenomenal)
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Bob Newman VINE VOICE on December 11, 1999
Format: Hardcover
Modern times mean modern means. Our contemporary adventurers always tote an amazing array of technology with them, or they rely on the backup of millions of dollars worth of equipment. Heading off to the stars eventually will involve the work of thousands of people. We always knew where the first balloonists around the world were, even their altitude. The Vikings never had that advantage, nor did the explorers of the Amazon nor the Micronesians as they sailed across the vast Pacific. Here is a story of a real, one-man adventure that started in the 1960s. A teenager in Togo, West Africa, Kpomassie grew up in an African village family. After a close encounter with a python, he was destined to become a priest in the traditional religion. His destiny was changed, though, the day he found a book on Greenland in a Christian bookshop. Utterly fascinated, he determined to travel to the far north to live with the Eskimos himself. This volume is the wonderful story of how he did it. It took eight years of effort to work his way across Africa to France, then ultimately, to Denmark from where he embarked on a ship to Greenland. Most of the book tells of how he lived, worked, hunted, found romance, ate and drank with the denizens of the frozen north, all told with an African perspective. "...the way we were stuffing ourselves with food and swapping stories reminded me so much of Africa..." (p.118) If "white man looks at the natives and pities them" is not your bag, then this is the perfect antidote. Kpomassie blends in so well, he thinks of staying there for the rest of his life, even learns to eat raw whale meat that splintered like ice in his mouth. You will never find another book like this. Buy it !
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Reader in Tokyo on September 17, 2007
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
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 By Maren Robinson on April 14, 2005
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
AN AFRICAN IN GREENLAND is the most remarkable travel journal I have read in a very long time. As a boy in Togo, Kpomassie was injured and while recovering read a book on Greenland that seized his imagination. The book recounts the events that led to this early obsession with Greenland, his efforts to reach the country and his travels in Greenland once he arrived. Kpomassie is a charming and honest narrator. He is at once perceptive, wry and compassionate in his account. He describes his travels and interactions with various cultures with almost anthropological detail and yet he never forgets the people he meets are human, wonderfully flawed perhaps, but human nonetheless. He turns his critical eye on his Togolese upbringing, his time in France, Germany and Denmark and ultimately Greenland. He never neglects to mention his own foibles, in his interactions in the lives of those he meets. (How could he not since he was the first African most of the Greenlanders had seen.) The story is also tinged with sadness for the loss the customs and rituals Kpomassie had hoped to witness in Greenland, the combined poverty and generosity of the people and the inevitable sorrow of ending a journey. It is a fascinating study of Greenland but also a study of a man pursuing a dearly held dream and that is what makes it such a satisfying read.
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