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.
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