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Monday, 5 September 2022
MICHEL THE GIANT: AN AFRICAN IN GREENLAND by Tété-Michel Kpomassie #TuesdayBookBlog
How I discovered this book: Birthday present from my sister.
In a Nutshell: Teenage boy in Togo, West Africa, in the 1950s, becomes obsessed with the idea of visiting Greenland after reading an article about it. Eight years later, he arrives there. This is the story of his adventure.
What a story!
This is not a tale of picture book Inuit folk beaming by sledges as they break ice to fish and build igloos; the author discovered that Greenlanders are not the hardworking, innocent people of his imagination, either.
The memoir begins in Africa, showing Kpomassie's life in Togo. He explains his fascination with Greenland and determination to get there. The first village he visits, Qaqortoq, on the southern coast, is friendly, yes, as the people drift in and out of each other's houses, are always happy to put up a visitor in colourful houses where the coffee pot is always on - but he also details the drunkenness that is as much a part of their life as the cold, and the casual attitude to sex: 'Greenland morality was beginning to disgust me'. He is disappointed by the lack of adherence to their native culture, which is down to the influence of the Danish, who owned this enormous island at the time. Since then, there has been a move to reassert their own cultural identity, self-rule has been established, and the country has been slowly moving towards complete independence from Denmark.
Qaqortoq, recent photo
Kpomassie eventually reaches the far north and discovers the hunters, the kayaks - the frozen world of which he'd dreamed. Everywhere he is shown great hospitality, except in one village in the north where his only option is to stay with the poorest family in disgusting conditions (seriously, don't read it while you're eating). He is clearly something of a celebrity, due to his colour and height, and I gathered that he's a rather charismatic man; everyone appears to like him, and he is very popular with the ladies. In the far north, wife-swapping is a recreational activity, with public 'dances' especially for this purpose.
I love that he finally reached the far, far north, and played a full part in the lives of the people he met, hunting and fishing.
This is an honest, graphic and often funny account, as much about the day-today social life and people as a descriptive journal about the landscape and culture - it's not a pretty travelogue type of memoir at all. Greenland is somewhere I've often wanted to visit; now, not so much. Highly recommended to anyone who loves this sort of story - unputdownable!