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The Greenlanders [Kindle Edition]

Jane Smiley
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (60 customer reviews)

Print List Price: $16.95
Kindle Price: $11.99
You Save: $4.96 (29%)
Sold by: Random House LLC

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Book Description

Pulitzer Prize winner and bestselling author Jane Smiley’s The Greenlanders is an enthralling novel in the epic tradition of the old Norse sagas.Set in the fourteenth century in Europe’s most farflung outpost, a land of glittering fjords, blasting winds, sun-warmed meadows, and high, dark mountains, The Greenlanders is the story of one family–proud landowner Asgeir Gunnarsson; his daughter Margret, whose willful independence leads her into passionate adultery and exile; and his son Gunnar, whose quest for knowledge is at the compelling center of this unforgettable book. Jane Smiley takes us into this world of farmers, priests, and lawspeakers, of hunts and feasts and long-standing feuds, and by an act of literary magic, makes a remote time, place, and people not only real but dear to us.

From the Trade Paperback edition.

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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.

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.

Product Details

  • File Size: 1066 KB
  • Print Length: 609 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 1400095468
  • Publisher: Anchor (January 5, 2011)
  • Sold by: Random House LLC
  • Language: English
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #242,820 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
53 of 57 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Richly Detailed and Chilling. Amazing Novel. August 28, 2003
By Barbara
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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41 of 45 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Preparation for a historical tour of Norse Greenland April 13, 1998
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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18 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Haunting and unforgettable. July 15, 2006
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
5.0 out of 5 stars Cool as ice August 31, 2000
I don't know anything about Jane Smiley - and not much about the historical background of this tale - but it certainly captured me for a time. At first, I was a bit confused about the fast pacing of the book, but then I started thinking that really was the point. The endless cycle of generations and human destinies came alive before me. Smiley's epic is extraordinary in that she doesn't try to make up drama. I felt she was a historian, a chronologist, who merely wrote up things as they happened. The objectiveness of her style is amazing. Someone dies, someone is born, a great wrong is done, life goes on. Cold-bloodedly Smiley describes hunger, disease, violence and all kinds of disaster, often wiping a significant amount of central characters out in a sudden rush - but that was how they went, the unfortunate lives of these people.
What adds to the book is the chilling knowledge, close to the end, that Gunnar, Johanna and the rest were to be the last of their people. That much I know about the history. In a sense, Smiley is being much more merciless than epic writers usually. She doens't set the reader free in the end. After all this suffering, there is no rest for these people - except in death. The ending is surely one of the most impressive I've read.
The best book I've read for a while.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
3.0 out of 5 stars No smile for Smiley on this one
I have read and enjoyed other works by Jane Smiley. The Greenlanders was a slow starter for me. There is the usual depth of character portrayal, but the overall plot is a... Read more
Published 1 month ago by Charles M. Boothby
5.0 out of 5 stars Heart and bone saga
A wonderful read. Smiley creates situations of unusual drama and humanity creating opportunities for her memorably drawn characters to say beautiful haunting things and the whole... Read more
Published 1 month ago by Hank Edson
4.0 out of 5 stars Recommend it
Thought it was good, interesting descriptions of how people lived in 1300s. Very long but liked it. A little difficulty keeping the charectares straight.
Published 2 months ago by Nancy Ashmore
2.0 out of 5 stars a depiction of medieval Greenland
This is a long novel laid in 14th and 15th century Greenland, and showing the dying out of Greenland as the people were defeated by the vicissitudes of the climate. Read more
Published 5 months ago by Schmerguls
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant author. Terrific service
Jane Smiley is an extraordinary talent to bring remote times and places to life. Her Thousand Acres was a rework of King Lear. Greenlanders is in the form of a saga, i.e. Read more
Published 6 months ago by P. Woelk
4.0 out of 5 stars Essential Reading
This is a must have book for me.My old copy went astray to one of many friends. It is one of the best ways to learn some history which was never taught in any school I ever... Read more
Published 6 months ago by Non Finkelstein
2.0 out of 5 stars Heavy & Plotless
My wife and I acquired this book because we plan to visit Greenland this year via cruise. We wanted to learn more about the early
Viking settlers, and I suppose we did... Read more
Published 6 months ago by Lane Hartsock
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent
This long story of several generations of Greenlanders will not be to everyone's taste. It is written it the style of the old Norse sagas, with actions described and thoughts left... Read more
Published 7 months ago by Erin Matthiessen
5.0 out of 5 stars Immersive saga
I picked this up as a fan of Jane Smiley's modern novels (Horse Heaven, A Thousand Acres, Moo), and little expected what would be inside. Read more
Published 8 months ago by Claire Bendix
3.0 out of 5 stars A long and tedious read
Written in a distant, disaffected, rambling, repetitive, humorless style. The story of the draggingly slow, hopeless decline of the medieval Greenlandic settlements. Read more
Published 8 months ago by Donald Hoffman
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