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Greenlanders Paperback – September 3, 1996


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 608 pages
  • Publisher: Ballantine Books; Trade Paperback Edition edition (September 3, 1996)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 044991089X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0449910894
  • Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 1 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (74 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,373,485 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In this vast, intricately patterned novel, Smiley accurately captures the voice of the medieval sagas. Understated, scattered with dreams and warnings, darkened by the brooding sense of unavoidable disasters to come, it is the tale of a Scandinavian settlement that lasted perhaps 500 years. With a meticulous attention to detail, the novel brings daily activities to lifefrom cheese making to hunting walruswhile examining the passions of a people under stress. The action centers on the family of Gunnar Asgeirsson. Gunnar's sister Margret is married off to Olaf, but he fails to consummate the marriage, and Margret begins a clandestine affair with a Norwegian sailor, Skuli Gudmundsson, who has stayed on in Greenland as a household retainer. Violence and tragedy ensue, and as Margret's unhappiness increases, her character hardens, and she offers her labor as an itinerant servingwoman. Although Margret is not always onstage, the novel spans the years of her long life. A foil to Margret, but no luckier, is Gunnar's wife, Birgitta, who is gifted with second sight. It is she who sums up the overriding sense of futility: "We have come to the ending of the world, for in Greenland the world must end as it goes on, that is with hunger and storms and freezing." Like the original Norse sagas, The Greenlanders roves restlessly from one folk group to another. Many of their destinies interlock, and certain exterior forces prey upon them all: the harsh climate; the marauding "skraelings," aboriginal Eskimos regarded as demons; outbreaks of bubonic plague and famine. Compulsive feuding, a witchcraft craze and a willingness to heed the apocalyptic prophecies of the madman Larus help to tear the society apart. As in her previous fiction (Duplicate Keys, The Age of Grief), this novel reveals Smiley's skill in delineating the behavior of individuals confined within a group. Her depiction of an isolated medieval folk battling for survival has a modern relevance. 50,000 first printing; Literary Guild alternate.
Copyright 1988 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Library Journal

Of proven skill when writing short stories and conventional novels, Smiley here attempts a family saga set among the Norse peoples of 14th-century Greenland. Centered on the fortunes of farmer Asgeir Gunnarsson and his children and grandchildren, the narrative pictures a bleak, declining society. Founded by Erik the Red, the Greenland colonies flourished for centuries; then trade shipments were cut off by the Black Death in Europe, the climate grew colder, and native peoples became increasingly hostile. Vivid, even stunning descriptions of the land and customs of these "lost settlements" are the book's strong points. Characterizations are less successful; many personalities remain wooden throughout the lengthy action. Nevertheless, the exotic subject matter will appeal to historical novel fans.Starr E. Smith, Georgetown Univ. Lib., Washington, D.C.
Copyright 1988 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Customer Reviews

She creates characters who are realistic and totally believable.
James S. Banko
A friend of mine recommended this book years ago, and just recently I got around to reading it.
"tessdurby"
It's a long and dense book in which many characters tell pages-long stories of their own.
Claire Bendix

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

59 of 63 people found the following review helpful By Barbara on August 28, 2003
Format: Paperback
I picked this book up at the store because of the attractive cover art. I had no idea that this story was written in the style of a Norse saga and it took a little getting used to. However, I was immediately drawn into the lives of Gunnar, his sister Margret, and their families as well as the details of daily life. Margret, whose emotional and physical needs are not met by her husband Olaf, dares to have a secret red dress that foreshadows events to come. She enters into an adulterous affair with a sailor who is working at the family's homestead. This illicit relationship leads to violence and tragedy. This happens about 80 pages into the novel and represented a turning point for me. Because I realized that this wasn't the kind of storytelling I am used to. I would never know as much as I wanted to about the characters feelings concerning life-changing events. At first, I was shocked at the detached recounting of major and often traumatic incidents. I could have put the book down, but I accepted this fact and continued to read because I wanted to find out more about Greenland. And that is the real story here, the story of the Greenland settlement and the forces that cause its decline.
The story doesn't focus on Margret throughout, rather it introduces different characters and as they are introduced, the interactions and influence of each person manage to create a bigger picture of what citizens of this isolated and bleak society faced. New facets are exposed, physical, mental and spiritual.
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44 of 48 people found the following review helpful By jmonson@wyoming.com on April 13, 1998
Format: Paperback
Our view of this book is a bit different than the other reviewers. We read this book as part of our preparation for a week touring in the old Norse Eastern Settlement, in Southern Greenland. It provided us with an excellent background for what we were to experience: walking the ruins of Erik the Red's Brattahlid farm, exploring the ruins of the Dyrnaes church farm, standing in the surprisingly intact nave of the Hvalsey church, listening to the account of the recent wedding there of an Icelandic descendent of the last known Norse couple (a Greenlander and an Icelander) to be married in that church and a native Greenlander. It really made the history come alive in this strange land that has to be experienced. Yes, the "Eskimos" (more accurately the Inuit) "won". Their descendents were our hosts. They accept and are proud of their country's Norse heritage as well as their own! This book is fiction-but is true to the recorded history from that time. Read the book for the history and then go and experience it for yourself.
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20 of 20 people found the following review helpful By Lee Madland on July 15, 2006
Format: Paperback
I first read this book soon after it came out in 1988 or `89, and its magic has never left me even after having reread it more than once since. The story, written in spare but illuminating saga style and historically accurate as far as it's known, vividly fleshes out a time and place, a society struggling to survive while being virtually forgotten by the outside world, a society of which many today are unaware that it ever existed. The novel spans generations, set during the latter half of the 1300s to early 1400s (some evidence indicates that the last Greenland Norse remnants in the Eastern Settlement may have held on into the early 1500s). Although its two widely separated settled areas never numbered more than a total of perhaps five thousand persons at the max, to ask why it disappeared is, in a real sense, to put the cart before the horse. As the late geographer Carl O. Sauer reminded us in his 1968 book "Northern Mists," the first thing to be asked -- the obverse, the first side of the question of why Norse Greenland failed -- is how it survived for five hundred years. This remarkable medieval people endured over a span as long as that of the Roman Empire and a century longer than the American culture has yet done since the first permanent English settlements of the early 1600s with far more support from overseas. With a sure hand Smiley portrays a distinctive slice of humanity in all its strengths, weaknesses, capacity for good and evil, fallability, wisdom, and stoic acceptance of its own mortality. Unlike some more recent writing of hers I've seen, the author essentially "tells it like it is," and in the manner of a true saga lets the chips fall where they may -- thus allowing the reader to make one's own judgments. This book is a masterpiece.
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on December 9, 1997
Format: Paperback
I am used to reading modern literature which tends to get inside the mind of the character and move at a very slow pace. This book (being an epic, I guess, the epic form not one which I have read very much) moves quickly through time, and the overall effect being that no one moment of tragedy or accomplishment is overwhelming. Instead, there is a strong sense of impermanence, that events happen but then move so quickly into the past. This doesn't mean that you don't care about the characters because things happen too quickly. No, you do care, but like the characters, you see their joys and griefs tempered with the passing of time. The only thing that has puzzled me several times in reviews that I have seen (such as the reviews on this page, as well as the comments on the front cover of the book)is that different people or groups are described as pivotal in the book (some say Margret, some say Gunnar, some say the skraelings). I didn't find that. In my reading, it felt that different characters came to the spotlight for a time, but then fell back, then forward again, then back. The overall effect was that the story was about the community as a whole, and that the actions of one character were usually seen in relationship to the other characters around them. Final comment - there are some powerful, but very subtle, points revealed about the limited role of women in this society, and the unneccessary suffering that was often caused by the strictures of this society.
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