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Consumption: A novel Hardcover – August 7, 2007

3.9 out of 5 stars 17 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. In this powerful first novel, a beautiful Inuit woman spends her teen years in the 1960s in a Montreal TB sanitarium, learning French and mathematics from nuns. Upon returning to her Hudson Bay hamlet to live in a government-made dwelling, Victoria feels like a stranger living in a kind of internal exile and shudders at the taste of half-rotted walrus meat. After getting pregnant by a Kablunauk (Inuktitut for white person), she marries him. Husband Robertson's ambition rankles the community to begin with, and when he accepts work from a South African mining company that wants to dig for diamonds in the frozen tundra, things come to a boiling point. Keith Balthazar, a doctor who comes to the community from New York, tends to Victoria's children in illness and gets unexpectedly entwined in the family's life. In language that is always sharp and sometimes mesmerizing, Patterson, author of a story collection and the memoir The Water in Between, seamlessly works murder, sex and intrigue into the mix and offers a terrific cast that makes arctic life, and the ties of kin, palpable. He delivers a searingly visceral message about love, loss and dislocation. (Aug.)
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“Because of his unique experience in the north, where he practiced as a physician, because of his elegant style and compassionate vision, Patterson has created a remarkably compelling novel. His insight into the human condition pulls us to the heart of events.”
Washington Post

“In this powerful first novel, Patterson delivers a searingly visceral message about love, loss and dislocation.”
Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“Patterson has mastered the most difficult trick of the sorcerer/writer–engaging the heart as well as the mind in the service of a greater truth.”
The New Orleans Times-Picayune

“Patterson is a sure guide through inhospitable terrain, be it the ‘elastic, almost infinite emptiness’ of the tundra or the far recesses of the soul.”
The New Yorker

“Patterson is an empathetic observer of wrenching cultural change and so-called progress. ‘A-’ ”
Entertainment Weekly

“The ‘set-pieces’ in Consumption are the very finest physician’s writings I have read in ages. I am thinking of the chapter on fingernails, the butchering of the seal, and the surgery for tuberculosis as performed on Victoria.”
–Richard Selzer, author of Mortal Lessons and Confesisons of a Knife

“Put Kevin Patterson’s debut novel, Consumption, right at the top of your must-read list. This book is a staggeringly beautiful elegy for the traditional life of the Inuit, showing the inevitable loss when cultures collide . . . Consumption is not only a beautiful novel, but also an important one. Few people are in Patterson’s position of knowledge and experience, and so readers are given a special opportunity to learn about the Inuit, the changes in their lives, and what those changes suggest for human beings in general.”
Edmonton Journal

“In this powerful first novel . . . Patterson seamlessly works murder, sex, and intrigue into the mix and offers a terrific cast that makes arctic life, and the ties of kin, palpable. He delivers a searingly visceral message about love, loss, and dislocation.”
Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“[The novel’s] thematic resonance, along with an understated humanism reminiscent of Anton Chekhov (incidentally, another physician), make Consumption a quietly devastating novel.”
Vancouver Sun

“This is a dynamite first novel from Patterson. His broad life experience evidences itself on every page of this ambitious and tough-minded book.
Winnipeg Free Press

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Nan A. Talese; 1 edition (August 7, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385520743
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385520744
  • Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1.3 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,464,741 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
This is probably the best book I read in 2007. It follows a woman of the Inuit tribes in northern Canada as she is treated for consumption (TB) as a child, brought to live among white Canadians, and then re-incorporated back into a changing Inuit landscape that is absorbing more and more white culture. The author tells the story from several points of view, the most interesting of which is a physician who provides a narrative history of consumption/tuberculosis. I learned a lot from those sections, as well as generally from the book about the Inuit and the travails of living in the Arctic circle.

The only reason I did not give this 5 stars is because there is a plot line regarding a murder that I felt stuck out from the rest of the narrative in an uncomfortable way. I also got the sense the book was not quite sure how to finish itself. Otherwise, it was a book that was difficult to put down with very interesting and complex character development. Of particular note is how each character is depicted neither as all good or all bad (a trap that many writers fall into). Instead, each character is presented with a depth that includes both positive and negative aspects, so that ultimately we feel for these characters is the same way that we might feel for people in our real lives.
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Format: Hardcover
Consumption deals with the little known world of the Inuit people. Like our Amish here in America, the Inuit live a separated life; in ways,customs,dress,speech, and food.

The story centers around the sensual and worldy-wise, some might say cynical, Victoria Robertson, a native Inuit who becomes pregnant with a white man's child and later marries him. Earlier in life, Victoria is severed from her Inuit world when she is ravaged by TB. Her parents send her to the city to be cared for by a religious order where she receives her elementary education and learns English, and she becomes close to a white family.

When she is eventually reunited with her Inuit family, she shudders at the thought of seal meat. In time, she is hanging around town, and when diamonds are discovered and a mine is being constructed, an engineer is frequenting the stores. She hungers for knowledge of the outside world and soon strikes up a friendship with the much-older Robertson, who eventually impregnates her, then marries her.

At the risk of revealing too much of the story, this book dwells heavily on the implications of what happens when cultures collide, when civilizatinos clash, when the old cannot be reconciled with the new; the results are complicated. There are a number of side plots and sub plots. The author is to be commended for not tying everything up into one neat tidy little package at the end of the book, but rather he leaves many questions unanswered.

Consumption is as fine a work of fiction as I have read in a long time. There are the great existential themes that will have you putting the book down and looking out the window and pondering on life. It is a haunting work that borders on cynicism. It is, however, a tale of the tenderness, and weakness that is the human condition.
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Format: Paperback
In almost whiplash fashion, Canada's Inuit people were yanked from the traditional lifestyle they had lived for centuries into what should have been for them an easier life in the small Artic communities they had only visited in the past. In a scant three generations (Patterson's book covers the 1950s to the 1990s), these people went from living "on the land" to watching their young people leave the Artic entirely in order to seek a lifestyle scarcely heard of by their grandparents. That such a rapid change was almost certain to be a destructive one does not lessen the impact of Patterson's story of the Inuit as they move from a difficult, but successful, lifestyle to one of poverty and confusion, and on to a generation of children with material and cultural desires that can no longer be satisfied in the Artic.

Patterson tells the Inuit story largely through the eyes of Victoria Robinson, an Inuit woman who, when she developed tuberculosis at ten years of age, was taken from her parents and sent to Montreal for treatment. By the time that she was returned to her parents as a teenager, they were no longer living "on the land" and had moved to the small Artic town of Rankin Inlet. Victoria, now an educated young woman with some knowledge of the world, felt like an outsider when she was reunited with her family. She knew that she was different, and so did they. Her marriage to a Kablunauk, a white man, seemed inevitable to her parents, and the experiences of her bi-racial children reflect all of the pressures and desires confronted by young people who must abandon their own culture in order to have better lives than the one experienced by their grandparents and parents.
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Format: Hardcover
This book is very well written. The author beautifully illustrates the arctic environment and the struggle of the people who live there. I found the transitions that the Inuit went through over the course of forty years to be particularly fascinating. The advances in technology which were at some times welcome and other times not welcome were clearly described in the book. It was a culture I really knew nothing about so I enjoyed immersing myself in a new, unknown people's life.

As mentioned in the synopsis, the book follows an Inuit woman who struggled with TB as a young girl and later marries a white man. The book is heavy on drama and sadness. It is not the feel good book of the year. However, the tragedy is, most of the time, believable. There were a few moments that I felt the author took dramatic license because it was unlikely for so much tragedy to happen to one family and the murder plot line seemed a bit off for the book. Yet it all did seem to come together in the end with a very satisfying ending.

My only true criticism of the book is that it covers too many characters. In much the same way that movies with large casts can get convoluted, this book was a bit too loaded with characters. The book jumps all over the place in regards to time which the reader eventually adjusts to. The changing time line was actually accomplished fairly well but the excessive number of characters was distracting at times.

This story is original, unlike anything else out right now. Beautifully written and, I think, an important piece of work for the Inuit people.
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