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This Cold Heaven: Seven Seasons in Greenland Paperback – January 7, 2003

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 377 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage (January 7, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0679758526
  • ISBN-13: 978-0679758525
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 1 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (36 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #304,978 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

From the acclaimed chronicler of open spaces, Gretel Ehrlich, comes a stunning and lyrical evocation of a practically unknown place and people. Beginning in 1993, Ehrlich traveled to Greenland, the northernmost country in the world, in every season--the four months of perpetual dark (in which the average temperature is 25 degrees below zero), the four months of constant daylight, and the twilight seasons in between--traveling up the west coast, often by dogsled, and befriending the resilient and generous Inuits along the way. Greenland, unlike its name, is 95 percent ice--a landscape of deep rock-walled fjords, glaciers, narwhal whales swimming among icebergs the size of football fields, walruses busting through oceans of shifting ice. In the far north, the polar Inuit--the "real heroes"--still dress in bear and seal skins, and hunt walrus, polar bears, and whales with harpoons. The only constant is weather and the perilous movements of ice, the only transport is dogsled, and the closest village may be a month and a half-long dogsled journey away. The people share an austere and harsh life, lightened with humor and the fantastic stories of Sila, the god of weather, Nerrivik, the goddess of waters, of humans transforming themselves into animals, and interspecies marriages. Interwoven with Ehrlich's journey is the even more remarkable story of Knud Rasmussen, the founder of Eskimology, an Inuit-Danish explorer and ethnographer who took some of the most hazardous and brilliant expeditions ever, including a three and a half-year, 20,000-mile adventure by dogsled across the polar north to Alaska. Like Rasmussen, Ehrlich learns that the landscape of Greenland is "less a description of desolation than an ode to the beauty of impermanence." Alternately mind-expanding, gripping, and dreamlike, This Cold Heaven is a revelation. --Lesley Reed --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

The book's epigraph, "I am nothing. I see all," comes from Emerson, but it might have been spoken by any of the shamans, mythical animals or spirit guides who inhabit this haunting work. It also catches the tenor of Ehrlich's concerns, for as an essayist and a naturalist, she frequently explores the relationship between the physical world and the province of the unseen. In the summer of 1993, recovering from a lightning strike that left her with a dodgy heart, Ehrlich (A Match to the Heart) set out on the first of many journeys to Greenland. Over the next seven years, she made her way across the high Arctic, traveling by dogsled, skiff and fixed-wing airplane, "in a country of no roads, where solitude is thought to be a form of failure." Inspired by the expedition notes of Knud Rasmussen, the brilliant Inuit-Danish explorer and ethnographer who recorded what Ehrlich calls the "lifeways" of the Inuit people, she traveled with subsistence hunters, spending weeks at a time on ice. Stylistically, Ehrlich achieves an arctic clarity, pared down and translucent. Because she is not content to merely narrate events, her divagations, as well as Rasmussen's, serve as jumping-off points for all manner of inquiry just as the Eskimos, to borrow her metaphor, used "ice as a flint on which their imaginations were fired." Reading Ehrlich, one gets the impression that she has no fixed idea about the progress of her journeys across the snow or the page. This very vulnerability, along with the narrative's pervasive sadness and loss, infuses the book with a quiet power. Maps and illus.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Customer Reviews

It's a slow-paced, tedious book riddled with useless and pointless details.
The focus she achieves through these revisitings, and our chance to re-encounter characters and experiences, builds a powerful emotional bond.
Deb A.
She provides wonderful insight to the way of life in less frequently travelled areas of Greenland and into the people who live there.

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

32 of 33 people found the following review helpful By Nick Dorosheff on January 25, 2002
Format: Hardcover
There are books and then there are "fulcrum" books. "This Cold
Heaven" is one of those that tips the reader into a place and
people that changes the light with which the world is seen.
The Greenland that Gretel Ehrlich describes will never
be experienced by the vast number of us
(thankfully so, for its own sake), but no reader will ever
doubt the impact of the beauty and harshness of the
Arctic environment on those who live there. To convey
to us a sense of that remote place and its animals and
the Inuit people is Ehrlich's passion and her genius.
Unlike some writers who spend a few months in research
and then write with mock authority, her voice has been
Greenland-seasoned seven times since 1993. Her view is
subtle and encompassing, yet leavened with the humility
of one who comes from the outside looking in.
Ehrlich's writing style is richly poetic, strong in metaphor
and allusion. By interrupting her own lyric voice
with the deliberate descriptions of early Arctic
explorers, she creates a blend of the fanciful and the
matter-of-fact that broadly reflects the Inuit
view of life, past and present. In the end, however,
and inspite of her admiration for the subsitence hunter,
she squarely questions the viability of the traditional lifestyle
in the face of modern consumerism. The answer, Ehrlich suggests,
is the one we've come to expect and, tragically, to accept.
Lest the reader fancies that traveling to Greenland to sample
a subsistence life is a good idea, hold on to this: you
don't belong there. Let this book be your window and your
mirror. Use it to visit a wisdom that, with any luck, may
affect you at your very core.
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28 of 30 people found the following review helpful By larry w. johnson on November 4, 2001
Format: Hardcover
Greenland isn't green at all, but the world's largest island is covered by the biggest continental ice shelf in the world. Sparsely populated on the rocky outer fringes of its 840,000 square miles, it's probably as unknown to Americans as anywhere in the Northern Hemisphere. Gretel Ehrlich knows its ice leads and midnight sun as well as any American, and probably as well as any non-Inuit except for a handful of Danes, whose territory it is. That's because she's obsessed with the North in general and with Greenland in particular. Over the past decade, she has traveled to the frozen island at least seven times, staying for months at a stretch, traveling long distances by dogsled, making friends with hunters and villagers, and participating in seal and
polar bear hunts. Erlich chronicles her trips and relationships in a new book called "This Cold Heaven." ((...) 377 pages, Pantheon Books) She does far more than record her own journeys, however. She also puts Greenland into cultural, historical, and anthropological perspective by weaving her trips with those of Knud Rasmussen, who died in 1933 after traversing the polar North from Greenland to Alaska. Even now, some of Greenlandic culture is largely unchanged from the days when Rasmussen and his close friend Peter Freuchen made "first" contact with some of the bands of isolated Inuit (Eskimos) on the island. Bears, seals, hare, fox and walrus are still hunted for food, clothing and fuel made from blubber, dogsled is still the chief method of land transport, and ancient stories and religion abound. There are modern encroachments, however - Danish bureaucracy, snowmobiles, alcohol, helicopters, and cars, to say nothing of the enormous American military base at Thule.
Read more ›
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26 of 28 people found the following review helpful By Maureen on January 12, 2002
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This woman truly loves the high north, with all its paradox and ambivalence . . . Erlich paints the beauty and complexity of northern Greenland (before reading this book it never occurred to me to think of Greenland as HAVING a "north" and "south"!) and the struggle a tiny minority are having to maintain their ancient -- and sustainable -- ways of life. I'd classify this first of all as a love story between woman and land, but it is a love story in which the sentient observer is aware of the problems with the beloved, and yet still remains committed.
This is not a "been there, seen that, got the T-shirt" travel book -- Erlich is drawn to Greenland no fewer than seven times, in various seasons, and she lives with the people in traditional housing (including tents on the ice). She encounters the brutality of bureaucracy as well as the incredible hospitality of the Inuit -- and at the same time she does not shrink from the pervasive alcoholism and domestic violence that are a sad feature of northern life, nor does she neglect to mention the impact even in Greenland of the growing pollution in "the south" (i.e. North America). Her thesis is essentially Romantic in a philosophic sense . . . subsistence living was/is hard but authentic. The coming of modernity, with its internet connection, TV, store-bought goods, etc., has removed both the means and the incentive for a life of integrity. She leaves it to the reader to see the Greenlandic experience as paradigmatic of the wider world.
Read this book - it will lift your heart and trouble your mind, and leave you wanting more.
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