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

4.5 out of 5 stars 26 customer reviews

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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

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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Product Details

  • Series: New York Review Books Classics
  • Paperback: 432 pages
  • Publisher: NYRB Classics (November 9, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0940322889
  • ISBN-13: 978-0940322882
  • Product Dimensions: 5 x 0.9 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (26 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #131,885 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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.
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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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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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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
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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