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Give Me My Father's Body: The Life of Minik, the New York Eskimo Hardcover – March, 2000

4.6 out of 5 stars 25 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

At last returning to print, Give Me My Father's Body is the thought-provoking tale of Minik, a young Inuit boy brought to New York by Robert Peary around the turn of the 20th century. Told simply and interspersed with personal letters and newspaper clippings, the book examines Minik's life both as a cross-cultural meeting place and a deeply personal search for a place to call "home." Photographs throughout of Minik give a glimpse into the incredible differences between the multiple worlds he inhabited, and how impossible it must have been to live in these worlds successfully. The title derives from one of Minik's more harrowing experiences--finding his father's bones displayed in a natural-history museum as a "curiosity"--and his attempts to retrieve the bones for a more respectful burial. Author Kenn Harper, while including many facts and articles about Arctic exploration, refrains from sharing opinions about the various explorers or their methods, choosing to share this story--and his years of research--plainly. From the death of Minik's birth father to the financial ruin of his American foster family, the events of Minik's childhood seem like one disaster after another, and his adulthood--the successful return to Greenland, followed by disappointment and a subsequent return to New York--is an unhappy struggle to find some kind of personal fulfillment. Questions of racial and cultural differences make an inescapable larger framework for Minik's life, and the emotions brought forward in answering those questions make reading this book a powerful experience. --Jill Lightner

From Publishers Weekly

When six-year-old Minik was chosen as one of six Eskimos from Qaanaaq, Greenland, to accompany explorer Robert Peary to New York City in 1897, he expected a brief adventure. Instead, he became an orphan and an exile. Treated as scientific curiosities, Minik's father and three others quickly succumbed to pneumonia, leaving the boy alone after the only other survivor returned to Greenland. Adopted by a middle-class family, Minik enjoyed a few relatively happy years until the family suffered financial disgrace. Peary refused to help support the boy or finance his return to Greenland, and Minik languished in poverty for several years. The horrific climax to his ordeal came when Minik learned that his father's body had been put on display at the American Museum of Natural History. Though his efforts to claim the body launched a media frenzy, they ultimately failed. Minik eventually returned to Greenland, where he had to relearn his native language and customs. Feeling marginalized among his people, he returned to the U.S. in 1916 only to die here two years later. Harper, who has lived for more than 30 years in the Arctic and is fluent in the Canadian Eskimo language, tells Minik's story straightforwardly and with sympathy. Yet he adheres so scrupulously to Minik's letters and other written accounts that his narrative is sometimes dry. As a tale of scientific arrogance, however, the book is chilling; as a portrait of an exploited, charming, intelligent, needy, sometimes vengeful and culturally ambivalent individual, it is truly unforgettable. B&w photographs. (Apr.) BOMC selection; rights sold in England, France, Germany and Spain; film rights optioned by Kevin Spacey.
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 277 pages
  • Publisher: Steerforth Pr (March 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1883642531
  • ISBN-13: 978-1883642532
  • Product Dimensions: 1.2 x 6.8 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (25 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #844,863 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Russell A. Potter on March 1, 2000
Format: Hardcover
The story of Minik, a young Inuk who was taken from his home in Greenland by Peary along with several adult Inuit, is told with tremendous feeling and clarity by Nunavut author Kenn Harper. Minik, whose father was "studied" by anythropologists even as he was dying of tuberculosis, was left an orphan, and further subjected to the horrible deception of a sham burial conducted with a coffin filled with stones, while his father's body was displayed as a human specimen in the Museum of Natural History. Among those who 'studied' his father was Arthur Kroeber, the so-called "discoverer" of Ishi, and father of novelist Ursula K. LeGuin.
Harper tells this tragic story with remarkable control, and Kevin Spacey contributes a brief but engaging foreword to the book, which he is working to make into a motion picture.
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Format: Hardcover
As Kevin Spacey says in his foreword, "there is not a page in this book without its horrors and wonders." When I read a description of this book in a newspaper article - a six-year-old Eskimo boy who is brought to New York in 1897 by Robert Peary, then abandoned by Peary when the adults in the group become ill, and in effect set adrift when he is orphaned - I thought this tale in itself sounded interesting. But I was pleasantly surprised to discover the book to be far richer, with more interestng characters and unexpected twists and turns than I ever could have imagined. Though the book has many new and revealing things to say about famous figures from the goldn age of polar exploration and is the first major book I know to tell its story from the perspective of the indigenous Inuit, it is largely a fascinating period piece from turn-of-the-century New York City. The characters reveal themseles slowly, as in the best fiction; Mr. Harper has done a world class job of fleshing out the details, and his unadorned writing style allows the focus to remain on his characters and story, where it belongs. I couldn't put this book down, and still can't stop talking about it to friends.
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Format: Hardcover
Things done in the name of science to the autochthonous people in this hemisphere have engendered support or cries of "genocide" from various factions. That theme, as well as that of a man caught between two worlds, and stories about those themes have been with us for centuries.
This book grabbed my attention when I saw it on a book shelf yesterday and held my attention until I finished reading it in the early hours of this morning. What was new to me was the tale of Minik and the first transport of his Inuit people to New York in 1897. I found the details of their lives in Greenland to be a refreshing filling of my vacant knowedge of this group of people.
This is a tale of (what I perceive to be)corruption on the part of hallowed institutions such as the American Museum of Natural History and the explorer Robert Peary. With only a modicum of knowledge of American history of the sciences I found the roles of Franz Boas, Peter Freuchen and other historical noteables to be fascinating as they became important embroidery to the content of this story. For those of us who discuss (on our better days 80) the emotional issues surrounding the interaction between "scientists" and native peoples there are potentially positive responses from each camp of readers. Folks who see "scientific" study of native peoples to be fraught with potential or acutal abuse and misuse will be able to say 'here we go again; science with no conscience'. Though this is not addressed in the book, those from the science side of the issue will be able to point out how much science has changed.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I might not have discovered this book if Kevin Spacey hadn't decided to buy the film rights and write a forword to the new edition. This well-written, meticulously researched history has left me almost breathless. If you are at all disposed to history, biography, anthropology, or any other study of human nature and experience, do read this book. As Harper recounts the events of Minik's life, the age of Polar discovery draws nearer to the present day. I stopped at times to wonder how far we've come in understanding people different from ourselves, in respecting not just the "idea" of diversity, but diversity itself. As we embrace the fashions, foods, even religions of other cultures, I hope we are not losing sight of what lies beneath our differences: an undeniable similarity, a shared distinction that I can only describe as the fundamental nobility of humanity.
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Format: Hardcover
Minik's story is one you will never forget. Kenn Harper has lived among the Inuit people for some 30 years, and his treatment of Minik's life story is both enthralling and starkly simple. There are many kind and cruel people who become involved in Minik's life, but only a few really cared about him as a person. Many were only interested in his people as "cultural artifacts" and as literal side-show attractions to make money.
The book explores both sides of Minik's world: his homeland in Greenland, and that of his new life in America. The author effectively shows the dire consequences when these two worlds will not mesh together, and Minik is left as a man with no country, in the most literal sense of the word.
Once you start reading his story, you won't want to put it down. Read it then recommend it to everyone you know!
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