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Smilla's Sense of Snow Paperback – October 1, 1995
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From Publishers Weekly
Copyright 1993 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Top Customer Reviews
The central character, Smilla, is of mixed Greenlandic and Danish parentage - and the conflicts between those two cultures, one colonial, one native, are alive within her constantly. The dialectic that exists between these two forces - which has so often transformed and rent the fabric of human society - tears at her life. She is a strong-willed, intelligent woman who is not really sure what she wants or expects from life - she trusts her instincts, but not necessarily her heart. When she comes upon the body of her six-year-old neighbor Isaiah crumpled in the snow outside their apartment building, dead from a fall from the roof, she is immediately suspicious - and when the police almost instantly rule the death an accident, Smilla's initial doubts increase. They continue to do so almost exponentially as she begins to look into the case - and her investigation leads her into one dangerous situation after another.
The author balances the emotional with the sociological and the scientific elements nicely in this story - there are plenty of references to Smilla's inability to trust, and to love (and the reasons that lurk behind), background on the treatment of the Inuit people by the Danes (both in Greenland and in Denmark), and plenty of science as well. The author has done his homework. In the note about the author, it's mentioned that before turning to writing, he worked as a professional dancer, an actor, a sailor, a fencer and a mountaineer - and it's pretty evident that he pursued these activities with attention and zeal. You can see elements from several of them within this work.
The writing is intelligent, and flows very nicely - and Høeg is masterful in giving away just what he wants to give away as the story progresses. Fans of the literary thriller should give this novel a good, long look.
I first read this literary thriller when it was published in 1993. Smilla Jaspersen--half Greenlander, half Dane, an unconventional loner and brilliant scientist who struggles with her conflicted upbringing--is devastated when a young boy she has befriended mysteriously falls to his death from the roof of their apartment building. Unsatisfied that it was an accident, she follows a trail from Copenhagen to the bleak Arctic reaches to solve his murder. Since that time I've probably read it a half a dozen times--and not for the incantatory power of the prose. Don't get me wrong--the writing is terrific and the story is compelling, complex, and extraordinarily well-plotted--but what gripped me most about this book was the main character. And she still grips me.
Smilla is undoubtedly the first contemporary fictional female character who isn't a wife, mother, saint, or a whore. Imagine a grown-up cross between Nancy Drew and Pippi Longstocking--if they'd been kicked out of every school they ever attended, hitchhiked around the world, maybe did some low-level smuggling, and somewhere along the way managed to pick up a couple of graduate degrees. Smilla is clever, bold, smart, independent, funny, adventurous, slightly reckless, and feels no qualms about telling the men who get in her way to shove off. She's a boat-rocker, whistle-blower, a rule-breaker who thumbs her nose at authority and refuses to submit, like a well-behaved girl, to the ancillary role society would like her to play (e.g., wife, mother, saint, whore). Which, of course, drive the men whose power she challenges into a fury that makes them want to annihilate her. The irony is that she was created by a man.
But Smilla's rebellion does not come without intense self-scrutiny and the painful knowledge that she's a lone wolf; at one despairing point in the book she even calls herself a loser. She admits her freakishness, the fact that she cannot find deep connections with others. She usually refrains from getting involved with men because she's terrified of becoming too dependent, of losing herself. She's terrified of being vulnerable, of being loved, of being left. And yet despite all of her fears she plods forward. She laments her inability to make a permanent place for herself in the world, and yet that doesn't deter her from what she feels is her duty--to solve the death of a little boy who may be the one person to whom she had what came close to a true connection. But the greater, unspoken challenge is how to live in the world as a black sheep, particularly if you are a woman.
Perhaps the intense dislike some feel towards Smilla stems from her daring to challenge the established structure of society which, despite all the advancements women have made, still places men on top and women underneath. Men dislike her because they can't abide a woman who doesn't know her second place; women dislike her because it forces them to address the power they give away by seeking validation from men. Plus, the world does not show any love for those who tell the truth or root out corruption--they are, more often than not, eliminated in one way or other. And yet, without those who exposed secrets or took the unpopular stand, who took the heat and bucked convention, we'd still be toiling in some medieval gloom.
I also loved how Hoeg, in comparing Denmark to Greenland, underscores how the "progress" and "development" of the modern world have all but destroyed the integrity of ancient cultures, the beauty of the wilderness, and the deeply-ingrained rituals that lend meaning to life as well as binding people together. He weaves examples into the main plot as a kind of elegy to the world as it was before man's maniacal drive to improve it. Some improvements come to mind that did indeed improve the quality of life for mankind--fire, penicillin, and efficient farming methods--but there are so many more that can only make you weep.
Now, if only America would produce a heroine as bold, rebellious, and independent as Smilla Jaspersen--and her little sister, Lisbeth Salander.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Haven't finished yet but really enjoying the prose.