Read An African in Greenland by Tété-Michel Kpomassie James Kirkup Al Álvarez Online


Tété-Michel Kpomassie was a teenager in Togo when he discovered a book about Greenland—and knew that he must go there. Working his way north over nearly a decade, Kpomassie finally arrived in the country of his dreams. This brilliantly observed and superbly entertaining record of his adventures among the Inuit is a testament both to the wonderful strangeness of the human sTété-Michel Kpomassie was a teenager in Togo when he discovered a book about Greenland—and knew that he must go there. Working his way north over nearly a decade, Kpomassie finally arrived in the country of his dreams. This brilliantly observed and superbly entertaining record of his adventures among the Inuit is a testament both to the wonderful strangeness of the human species and to the surprising sympathies that bind us all....

Title : An African in Greenland
Author :
Rating :
ISBN : 9780940322882
Format Type : Paperback
Number of Pages : 300 Pages
Status : Available For Download
Last checked : 21 Minutes ago!

An African in Greenland Reviews

  • Hadrian
    2018-09-23 09:52

    Well this is a book which will win readers from its intriguing title and premise. A young Togolese man reads about Greenland, and decides to travel there.One would think that the desire to move from Togo to Greenland is a bit of adolescent rebellion, but the author takes eight years to save up the money and journey up through the Sahara and Europe to make his trip. If anything, it's a persistent sense of Wanderlust.As it turns out, he was the first African to ever visit Greenland, so he's treated with curiosity by all the locals. They're delighted to have him, and they're even more pleased when he eats their food, even when it tastes like wax, and calls the local girls pretty. Once he's arrived, he's compelled to journey even further north, with the hope to reach Thule, now Qaanaaq, one of the northernmost settlements in the world. Though he doesn't quite make it, he thoroughly enjoys himself for the rest of the trip. He does not get to live in an igloo like he'd hoped, but he rode a dog sled, ate blubber and fish, made friends with the locals, and went ice fishing.Kpomassie is a fine travel writer. He doesn't make broad comparisons with Togolese culture too often, but he does detail the Inuit life. It's a harsh existence, and after long stretches of hunting and fishing, there's often drunken festivities and lots of sex to break up the tedium. He can't always blame them, as there's little else to do. Our author survives by drinking gallons of coffee.This is a charming book. Kpomassie doesn't romanticize the place of his youthful dreams, but he does capture the colorful experiences of his journey with style and honesty.

  • Aubrey
    2018-10-05 11:57

    This is the book that made me think there was some worth to following the NYRB Classics imprint, least until the usual inundation of names that don't appear quite as often on lists like the Modern Library 100 as others started up. Sure, some of them were new to me, but you can't expect to hook me through an ethnography written by a Togo traveler journeying to near the farthest north of indigenous Greenland and have the latest less than obscenely famous Frenchy boy scribble go down just as smoothly. One of these things is not a matter of real publishing effort. I do like my pretty pretty cover designs, but aesthetics can only carry a lumbering dinosaur of self-titled pioneer so far.All I can really say about this is you'd have to read it to believe it. The world's only gotten smaller over the years to the European gaze and there's a chance the GOP and co. will melt Antarctica before exploration maps that out to completion, which doesn't give much hope but does explain the rumblings of the ultimate white flight to Mars. For those of us not stuffing our heads in the various sand pits of greed and guilt and writings of those who look like us, a postcolonial journey to the snow is very nice indeed, especially when Kpomassie has an excellent sense for what is up for someone in their younger mid-twenties. He most certainly did a great deal of plumping up and smoothing out of his account in the nine years between the date he left the ice and the year this tome was published, but you can't fake a mix of curiosity and genuine respect for a culture different from your own. Barring Bouton's shitty ass quote on the back of this thanking Kpomassie for not respecting his hosts enough to keep his mouth shut (those sucking at the teat of Entertainment Above All are eternal slags), I'd say he did a pretty good job,.One thing Kpomassie and the Inuit who hosted him have in common is a past and present filled with white people and their tendency towards suffocation in the name of whatever. It shows in the Danish customs that Kpomassie regretfully observes as the cultural mainstay in a town with only a single Danish citizen, as well as his own usage of the word Eskimo, the footnote defining it a wonder of academic thoroughness and complete lack of critical thought. Beyond that, this is a work intimately aware of how a homeland and a country of dreams were impacted by the same conquering history, and it doesn't have to be a manifesto to subtly probe at the breed of cultural anthropology that aids and abets such a past.It's a shame Kpomassie hasn't written more. The world needs explorers like him who have no idea what they're doing but are willing to go about figuring the right way to do it."...our handful of passengers was presented with navy certificates testifying that we had traveled inside the Arctic Circle, which we had just crossed. This distribution of printed forms struck me as so grotesque that I didn't bother to collect mine, preferring to savor the strange thrill of that striking landscape.

  • Book Riot Community
    2018-09-30 09:05

    Good bananas, I learned a lot from this book, which is the memoir of a man from a small African village who spends the better part of a decade getting to Greenland and then several years in Greenland, just generally be a badass and being 100% down for whatever adventures come his way. Like, I learned that if you go to Greenland and knock on a stranger’s door they’ll say, “What’s up, come in and eat raw blubber and also live here now,” and then you’ll be like, “Sure, cool, thanks,” and sleep in a bed with their entire family for several months, no big deal. An African in Greenland was just straight up fun and interesting and one of the better memoirs I’ve read in my decades on this planet.– Tracy Shapleyfrom The Best Books We Read In June 2016:

  • RandomAnthony
    2018-09-21 16:03

    An African in Greenland made me rethink travel literature. Most travel writers seem to want to sound as if they're especially clever and removed. They amplify each experience for dramatic effect. I don't know there's anything wrong with that. But An African in Greenland takes a different route. Tete-Michel Kpomassie rambles, judges, exclaims, and wonders about Greenland's landscape and inhabitants. He's not writing a National Geographic article. He's writing a much more fun and honest book.While I guess the author's early life in Africa and dogged path toward his goal provide necessary context, the fun starts after the author boards a boat and heads west on the Atlantic. When Kpomassie lands in Greenland the script transforms away from a simple feel good story about a black guy in Eskimo country (didn't Cuba Gooding Jr. make a movie about that, by the way?) into a wide-eyed and sometimes hilariously indignant reporting of the best and worst of Greenland. If you expected Kpomassie to portray Greenlanders as deep and noble, yee-ha, you've got the wrong book. Just wait until you get to the section on wife-swapping. And I don't know how many times he mentions people shitting in buckets right in front of everyone but I strongly suggest the Greenlanders build a hotel or two before they promote tourism. Maybe they already have. And Kpmossaie represents the crushing boredom of deep winter poverty with compassion and little window dressing. Essentially, from what I can tell, Greenlanders spend a hell of a lot of time drinking and fucking. Who can blame them? They're in Greenland.But the class issues and weird, insular cultural problems are sad and scary. I don't know that An African in Greenland is a definitive description of the country or people. But I know I've never read a book like it. I recommend the book but you should know ahead of time that this isn't a touchy-feely book-clubby travelogue. It's better. And uglier.

  • Louise
    2018-10-09 16:43

    Tete-Michek Kpomassi stepped outside his tradition. He would not stay with his Watyi tribe in Togo and revere his elders, swelter in the heat or do any further penance to reptiles. After seeing a book on the Eskimos of Greenland in a mission bookstore he set his sights on going to their cold, snake-less island. It took 8 years to reach his goal, but he got there.Kpomassi had quite an adventure. In the Greenland of the 1960's he could knock on a door, say he was a traveler and then be given a place to stay for days... weeks... months. He was a novelty. Reports of his being in the area would often precede him. He was accepted as a traveler and friend and encountered very little racism.As he travels northward on Greenland's west coast he participated in the lives of the friendly strangers he stayed with. I would expect this recount of the daily life is valuable documentation Greenland at this time. It also makes a fascinating read.He learns many ways to fish and how to cut and cure what is caught. He learns to use a bucket for an indoor toilet and how to drive a team of huskies. He eats the local food, observes holiday and funeral customs and visits hospitals and prisons. He writes briefly about sexual norms. Multiple partners among married couples is common, but jealousy isn't. Families sleeping together to stay warm provoke a number of issues. Kpomassi says little about his own experiences, but the few instances of racism he faces, he suggests stem from his popularity with the women of Greenland.On the down side, Kpomassi sees the reliance on alcohol, the hunger of children when their father cannot or will not catch fish, the poor treatment of dogs and unsanitary conditions. There are sad tales of death and dangers of the cold.I would like to read more from this author. There is nothing else in English (or maybe French either). Two other books are begging to be written: 1) Kpomassi's life in Togo and 2) his 8 year journey through Ghana, Senegal, France, Germany and Denmark earning his way to Greenland. I'd specifically like to know how he acquired his education, something on his adopted father and how he fared when he went back to his tribe after having so much experience of the world and its cultures.

  • Ken
    2018-10-09 08:49

    Breezy, well-written, straightforward narrative about an African lad who sees a book about Greenland, develops an interest, and, as a young man, follows through on his dream. Kpomassie stands out in more ways than one once he arrives--a black man in a green land is most unusual--but he also stands out for his height. Punch line (and statement about Greenlanders): He's only 5' 10".Kpomassie is a good storyteller. The opening chapters take place in his native Togo. One particularly entertaining chapter tells of his run-in with a snake while high in a tree (advantage: snake). Afterwards, deathly ill from the snake's championship victory, young Kpomassie is taken by his father to a snake-worshipping tribe deep in the jungle for "the cure." Let's just say Indiana Jones would NOT appreciate the ritual or the guests of honor among this tribe.After a brief interlude in France, the narrative travels to Southern Greenland--distinctly different from Northern, as readers will see--and begins to observe and chronicle the life, habits, and diet of the world's largest island. Certainly they have a different take on the body and privacy and sex than most Europeans, Americans, and, yes, Africans. For one, a large bucket just inside the front door serves as a not-so-privy privy. Greenlanders of all ages and both sexes would happily engage Kpomassie in conversation as they unzipped, squatted, and let fly. No one (spare the African in the room) so much as batted an eyelid. Now THAT'S familiarity.Greenlanders are also quite open about sex and that includes swapping partners now and then. Jealousy is frowned upon in Greenland, so if someone invites the guest (this is a big hospitality culture) to your wife, you smile and nod, "By all means! She's wonderful!" Then the wife smiles her delight as well. Hoo, boy.Poverty and the closeness of most living domiciles means parents typically have sex in the dark near the children, too. No need for "the talk" in Greenland! People are busy doing "the walk"! Finally, as is true in many northern cultures with temperature and daylight extremes, alcoholism is ever-present. Greenlanders love their coffee, but they love their booze as well. One couple, so drunk they didn't know any different, wind up sleeping on and suffocating their infant child. (Imagine the guilt with THAT hangover.)Lots of interesting anecdotes, stories, characters and insights here. The writing is simple and clean as ice (even though this is not Iceland). A quick, easy, enjoyable jaunt, with only occasional lapses where Kposmassie inserts a little background info obviously taken from books on Greenland to supplement his tale.

  • VeganMedusa
    2018-10-02 11:43

    This was more than I expected. I wasn't expecting the author to be so diligent - learning the languages of the people he visited, studying historical records to see how customs in Greenland had changed, etc. He didn't do a lot of comparing Togolese customs to Inuit, but there was some.At the same time, while I knew there was going to be plenty to disgust a vegan (I'm not judging the Inuit for that, they live the way they need to live, it's just gross to read about) there was SO MUCH eating of seals, whales, seabirds, etc. Raw whale lung dunked in blubber, ugh. And the descriptions of the families digging in to a seal in their living room, children covered in blood as they all chow down on the good bits. Yikes.Plus, wife-swapping! I feel sorry for the women, who the author admitted sometimes seemed reluctant. But again, he pointed out the reasons behind it, and like women in his country who end up being one wife of many, the Inuit women have to have the foursome relationship for their long-term survival.Fascinating stuff. I have decided I'll never go to Greenland,though. I've always wanted to, but I'm now at the age where I can see that it just wouldn't work, with the whole vegan thing. Plus I don't drink coffee and don't like getting falling down drunk. So that's 99% of Inuit culture I couldn't participate in!

  • Tracy Shapley
    2018-10-07 14:02

    I feel pretty confident that anyone who's capable of experiencing joy would love An African in Greenland by Tete-Michel Kpomassie. As the title implies, it is the story of an African man who travels to Greenland. Until his travels begin, he lives a pretty sheltered life within an African village where the men have numerous wives and everyone wears loin clothes. So you can imagine some of the predicaments the author gets himself into as he spends years working his way from Africa to Greenland.This is a true fish-out-of-water story and it is great fun and very interesting to follow Mr. Kpomassie around as he discovers many things we all take for granted. He's such a great sport about everything and is 100% down for any and all adventures that come his way, no matter how scary they are. But, one of the things I adored so much about this book, is that he's not the only fish-out-of-water. The vast majority of people he comes across in Greenland have never seen a black man. Some children are scared, people ask him rude questions, but everyone welcomes him and he takes it in stride. It was such a strange experience for everyone involved and so lovely to follow them all.The writing is joyful and fast-paced and gave me exactly the amount of detail I wanted. The middle holds some pictures so readers can check out some of the shacks he was staying in and how strange he looked among all the very short residents of one town he stayed in.I also learned quite a few things, like if you live in Greenland and some stranger knocks on your door you just open it and invite them to move in.I would recommend this book to 100% of people I know.

  • Shawn Mooney
    2018-10-08 12:04

    I fell in love with the book's title, and then I discovered that the author, Tété-Michel Kpomassie, fell in love with Greenland from the title of a book he happened upon in his native Togo as a teenager, triggering his life-changing quest to visit the country arguably most different from his own. The fact that this quest got him out of Togo, and thus out of a seven-year apprenticeship with a snake-worship cult, made the beginning of this memoir read like a gripping novel.It takes him more than ten years to get his ducks in a row, educate himself, and travel from Africa to Denmark. In his early twenties, Kpomassie finally realizes his dream.It's an exquisite translation by James Kirkup, but no doubt it must be a beautiful read in the original French too. While the book convinced me that no amount of money could entice me to ever visit Greenland or eat any local food, I also feel like I've been there.The Greenlander people, customs, and culture are all richly described, and what a unique perspective a young African autodidact brings to this confounding, hospitable, unforgiving place!I'd be tickled pink if my review made you, too, fall in love with the title of an extraordinary book about a man who fell in love with a faraway land from the title of a book.

  • Beverly
    2018-10-18 10:04

    This was a 3.5 read for me.My thoughts:• I enjoy armchair travelling and a good travelogue especially to places I have not yet visited. This was an intriguing read as I learned about Togo and Greenland.• Written with charm and wit, the author’s personality shines through and as your reader you understand Kpomassie’s charisma and ability to easily integrate himself into a society/culture to his own.• While the author does not spend much time talking about Togo (except for the events that led to his fascination with Greenland) I certainly became interested to learn and read more about Togo.• The author demonstrated an ability to quickly learn new languages as he travels across African and Europe to get to his goal Greenland.• I appreciated how the author keenly observes the Inuit and their culture and felt at ease no matter the customs.• While reading with my modern American eyes, I know wondered how certain customs/traditions developed and how I would adapt to them. But it easily becomes obvious that time and environment influences how a person lives and you have to use the resources at hand. I did not find the Inuit diet appetizing or appealing but when you live in an area without arable land ant timber then the food source has to come from mostly from the sea and those few than animals that can survive and it made sense to eat most of this raw.• I did wonder why all of the coffee drinking and how did this become a big part of their culture. Every household had a pot of coffee going for themselves and guests.• While I would have liked a little less detail regarding the fishing/hunting adventures, this is activity is so important to the survival of life in Greenland that doing this help helps determine if you eat and have warm clothing, and have something to barter with for other supplies.• Once I finished reading I wondered how the author fared after his Greenland adventure and what lessons he had learned that we would apply to life wherever he landed.

  • Susann
    2018-10-06 08:43

    I had never heard of this book until I learned that the Idlewild Books folks were going to discuss it. I'm so glad I took a chance on it, because it's like nothing I've ever read. It's a travel memoir about a teenager in Togo in the late 1950s, who decides he must visit Greenland and live with the locals. It takes him eight years to get there (a fascinating journey in itself which could easily fill several stand-alone books) and, by my calculations, arrives in 1965. Obviously, Kpomassie's story is unique (how many people ever go to Greenland, let alone people from small African countries?), but his voice is also distinctive. I wish I could put my finger on what makes it so unique. He's not an anthropologist, but he shows and explains the Greenland culture. He's a charming, gracious man who easily makes friends and seems content to do as (many of) the Greenlanders do, but he doesn't shy from honest observations about the negative aspects of the culture. I finished the book wanting to know more about the Greenland of today. I'm pretty sure that alcoholism is still a major problem, but how has Denmark's relationship changed with Greenland? How has the Internet affected the culture? What about the couples-swapping? Are the homes more substantial now? Is the respect for children still as strong as it used to be? Kpomassie also spoke at Idlewild Books, and I'm so sorry I couldn't make it to that event.

  • Karen Mardahl
    2018-10-02 09:49

    I often thought that there was a great need for someone to do reverse anthropological studies. Instead of someone (white) from the West studying people in Africa or Asia, someone from one of those areas ought to study people in the West. I had no idea that someone came close to doing that in the 1960s and then published a book about it in 1981. I say "close to doing that" because the author didn't write about people in France or in Denmark. He wrote about people in Greenland who don't typically fall into the category of "the West". By writing about his experiences in Greenland, he does comment on the West indirectly and it is rather eye-opening. The experiences in the book are from 1965 and 1966. I know nothing about life in Greenland then or in earlier years. At first, when he described all the alcohol in the society he first encountered, I thought it was giving a bad impression of the people of southern Greenland. I also wondered about the all the seemingly casual sex. Was this both racist and sexist? I slowly realised that this was a reflection on how Denmark was treating the Inuit of Greenland. The author was seeing the effect of colonialism on an isolated group of people. It was sad to read. The amazing thing is how the author found and made friends all over the place. He stood out in Greenland for obvious reasons: his height and his skin colour. He would be a novelty like that. He had a knack for believing in the best in people and walking right up to them and asking if he could stay with them. Combined with the hospitality in the region, he broke down barriers that I think would keep the majority of us from ever trying to achieve a fraction of what he achieved. He was not repulsed by living with some of the poorest people in these towns, like I think most people would be. Only when facing a near-starvation existence in one family, did he agree to move to another family who had more food on the table. He went in to all situations with a very open mind. I don't think he had an ounce of prejudice in his body. He might have been shocked by some things, but he often marvelled at them and viewed them at different angles to gain an understanding of why people would do such-and-such.There is a flow to the book and there isn't. In the last chapter, he goes more in depth with some legends and traditions than he did earlier. In a way, this matches his own getting to know Greenland. He is restless when he first comes to southern Greenland because he is looking for the traditional way of life and not this halfway life between the past and the present under colonial rule. As he moves north, he learns more about the country and the people. In the last period of his stay in Greenland, when he meets Robert Mattaq and learns some legends and traditions, he has gone deeper into the soul of the people.He makes me want to know more about this country and its people. I liked how he could find useful comparisons between his own culture and the Inuit culture to gain more understanding of his new friends. He didn't do so in a superior way. He looked for patterns to improve his understanding when he encountered something unfamiliar. He never considered himself as the best and then used that as a benchmark against which he would measure all he encountered. He was simply mapping experiences to understand and to get know these people and their world. I find that a valuable takeaway from this book. Something tells me this book is going to stick with me for a while.

  • Tiffani
    2018-10-12 16:56

    A sixteen-year-old in Togo (Africa) reads a book about the Inuit in Greenland and decides he must see this land of ice with no trees or snakes for himself. (Kpomassie has a difficult history with snakes so no snakes is a big draw.) It takes him several years to get there, about eight years of so of working his way up the west coast of Africa, to France, Denmark, and eventually to Greenland. He doesn't just visit for a few weeks, Kpomassie lived there for over a year, getting to know the people, their land, and their way of life. This was a delight. I loved Kpomassie's sense of adventure and curiosity.

  • Suzze Tiernan
    2018-09-24 09:59

    Interesting "travel" book. A young African boy reads a book on Greenland, and, as an adult, moves there, living with native families.

  • Rambling Reader
    2018-10-21 14:08


  • Kobe Bryant
    2018-10-18 09:45

    Pretty cool if you want to read about people eating some real gross food and how all the girls wanted to be with him

  • Brittany
    2018-10-15 11:56

    Memoirs are not my favorite genre, more often than not people come off as self-congratulatory and it really grates on me. Tètè-Michel Kpomassie manages to tell us of his great adventure, over the course of several years in pursuit of experiencing Greenland and the Inuit people without a trace of smugness. Kpomassie is an African from a small village in Togo. Life in his village is very different from my own life in America, but if I thought his life was very different I had no clue what was in store for me once he shared his experiences in Greenland! At age 16, inspired by what he read and saw in a book about Greenland Kpomassie sets out to see it for himself, despite warnings that his African blood wouldn't be able to handle such a drastic change in climate. It takes him many years to make it to Greenland, with stops in other areas of Africa, France, Germany and Denmark. Along the way, and in Greenland Kpomassie has the charm and friendly disposition that makes people want to help him and be around him. As I said before, the daily life in Greenland is much different from my own. Kpomassie really takes care to give you every detail about the Eskimo customs and way of life, without judgement. I have to give him credit for being the most adaptable and outgoing person I've ever read about. I learned a lot from this book and while it was interesting, I probably won't be booking a trip to Greenland anytime soon! 4/5

  • Douglas Dalrymple
    2018-10-12 15:48

    An adolescent boy in Togo has an accident and is healed by the high priestess of a snake cult. While recovering he stumbles on a book about the Inuit of Greenland and decides that nothing will satisfy him in life until he has lived in the shadow of the ice sheet. What’s not to like, he figures: shivering through six months of night, eating raw seal fat, and engaging in culturally approved fornication and wife-swapping. This is a strange sort of fairy tale, but entirely non-fiction. The book is part memoir, part travel narrative, and part anthropology. It reads well in translation and is full of fascinating observations and reflections, even if the squalor he depicts is often abominable and one can’t help wondering how many little half-Togolese Inuits Kpomassie left behind him.3.5 stars but I'm rounding up.

  • Liz
    2018-10-15 13:50

    Kpomassie brings a unique viewpoint to the ethnographic travel memoir: an African with a traditional upbringing and some European education who is writing about another indigenous people, the Inuit. He is not sentimental about his hosts and his writing style is sparse and matter-of-fact, yet poetic at times.BookRiot Read Harder Challenge 2017 | Task 8: A travel memoirPopSUgar Reading Challenge 2017 | Task 14: Book involving travel

  • Juliana
    2018-10-01 16:01

    I like books that show me another culture or way of life. This one has a bonus because it is written from the POV of someone of an entirely different culture. Kpomassie has a fascinating story of how he decided to leave his native Togo and travel to Greenland: he spent many years working his way there. And then he provides an intimate look at the people and customs he encounters there. I will be looking for more treasures like this one from New York Review of Books Classics.

  • Harry Rutherford
    2018-10-15 10:42

    An African in Greenland is an autobiographical book; as a teenager in Togo, Tété-Michel Kpomassie read a book about Greenland and decided to go there. It took him eight years, working a variety of jobs, to make his way up through West Africa and Europe before eventually arranging a trip to Greenland, where he stayed for about two years (in, if I’ve got my sums right, 1965).The book’s title implies that there is some kind of different perspective that Kpomassie is going to bring because he’s African, and I have to admit that it was part of the appeal for me when I bought the book. It’s such an immediately striking juxtaposition, this young man from Togo living among the Inuit and eating seal blubber: just the title is like a pitch for a cheesy Hollywood comedy.In fact, it’s not obvious that his Africanness makes that much difference to the book, after the first couple of chapters that take place in Africa, and in retrospect it’s hard to say what I was expecting, really. There are a couple of occasions where he compares local beliefs (about the travels of the human soul in dreams, for example) with those he grew up with; and his Africanness does make him an instant celebrity in Greenland: the first black person most of them had seen, and several inches taller than most of the locals.It is, though, an interesting and enjoyable book about Greenland: ice-fishing and dog-sledding and eating of revolting-sounding bits of raw viscera and lumps of animal fat. Whale lung! Boiled sea gull! Yummy. And as with Halldór Laxness in Iceland, endless cups of coffee.Although actually, I think it’s to his credit that he clearly made a point of eating everything that was put in front of him, and doesn’t spend a lot of time in the book dwelling on the off-putting nature of the food. Perhaps it’s nicer than it sounds; perhaps he just wanted to downplay the potential freak-show aspect of this kind of travel book. He has a fairly clear-eyed view of the harshness of life for many of the people he meets and the social problems he encounters, but he doesn’t dwell on it excessively. Perhaps even more surprising for someone who had travelled for eight years to get there to fulfil a childhood dream, he doesn’t romanticise the country either: not too much of the noble savage stuff.Here’s a longish passage about life during the time of the midnight sun, with 24 hour daylight:The oddest thing was that we couldn’t get to sleep any more. To fill in the time I stayed at the school, where I took notes, sometimes until three in the morning. Kield Pedersen, the Danish headmaster, kindly gave me access to the Medelelser of his establishment — many bulky volumes which contained the findings of every piece of research done in Greenland since the days of Hans Egede.Outside, small orange or red tents sprang up, erected by children whom the endless daylight kept from sleeping. At three in the morning you could still see them playing outside. Sometimes they went on like this for two whole days without going to bed. Eventually they dropped with fatigue, and then might sleep for two days at a stretch. It was the teachers, not the parents, who complained, because most of the time their classes were half empty.Sleep eluded the adults, too. Everyone was restless. They had hardly set foot indoors before they were longing to go out again, to tramp on and on, to run from hill to hill. They rambled around incessantly, in search of who knows what. All through the spring they’d go wandering like this, building cooking fires in the mountains with three stones for an oven, gathering parnet berries, resting no matter where when tiredness overtook them. both with humans and animals, spring here was the season of tireless frenzies of love. Groups of boys and girls ran laughing and shouting until early morning, and there was the noise of rutting huskies fighting, the deep growls of the males mingling with the bitches’ piercing yelps. The birds sang and the eiders quacked in the creeks.The landscape seemed excluded from this general harmony, and it changed from day to day. All the filth of Christianshåb was suddenly exposed by the sun’s return and the thaw. Snow melted n the slopes, the street became a river of mud, and innumerable streams riddled the ash-grey earth and brought to light piles of of old bottles and cans, dog shit, household waste, and rotten potatoes. All the garbage which cold and snow had preserved — now swollen with melted water, rotting fast and buzzing with clouds of flies, real flies, come out to haunt us like a bad conscience. Outside the doors and under the foundations, the houses were repulsively filthy. the borrowed coat of spotless white had covered so much offal! A sickening stench hung everywhere. the dogs, some of them now moulting, slunk squalidly about the village. You really wondered whether you were still living in the same land that had once been so clean and white.An African in Greenland is my book from Togo for the Read The World challenge. Oh, I nearly forgot: it was translated from the French by James Kirkup.

  • Snem
    2018-10-12 12:54

    I had no idea I knew so little (absolutely nothing) about Greenland. I learned so much from this book! I really was inspired by the author's spirit of adventure and willingness to throw all of himself into every aspect of this experience. It's an intriguing read and I found the author likeable.The author's motivation to travel to Greenland didn't come through for me. It's also dated so I'm not sure how much of this is true of Greenland today. It can't be understated that none of his adventure trip could've been possible without the generosity and hospitality of a lot of people. Some parts are pretty gross so it's not for the squeamish.The value in this book is learning about a completely different and new culture. So if you want to read about eating seals blubber, psychosis from the dark, dog sledding, the value of children's opinions, and wife swapping all in freezing temperatures then this is the book for you.

  • Lucy Pollard-Gott
    2018-10-08 10:06

    Tété-Michel Kpomassie is an extraordinary person and an extraordinary writer. His decision to leave his native Togo in 1959 and travel alone to Greenland puts him among some of the most determined Arctic travelers of the last few centuries. His choice of destination is surprising, until one reads his account of it. This book, his absorbing travel memoir, won the Prix Littéraire Francophone in 1981.His first chapter, “The Snake in the Coconut Tree,” reads like the excellent start of an absorbing novel about African life. His uncle wanted to wake the young man to join a party of his brothers going to the nearby coconut plantation to harvest coconuts. Tété-Michel did not want to wake up and did not want to go to collect coconuts–he had a premonition that something very bad would happen that day if he went. But, on the impatient uncle’s orders, his brother filled a coconut-gourd bowl with water and dumped it on him; at last, soaked and resigned, Tété-Michel got up and joined the expedition. With practiced skill, he shinnied high up into the first coconut tree, without a rope, to dislodge the bunches of coconuts at the very top. But he also dislodged a nest of snakes. He had no weapon and few choices, when faced with the venomous reptile. He tried to avoid the snake and climb down ahead of it, but it slithered over his head and down his back–the last ten feet, he fell to the ground. It is unclear whether he was bitten or not, but, whether from venom, from venom antidote poisons, from injury, or plain shock, he soon lapsed into fever and delirium. In the next chapter, “The Sacred Forest,” he was taken deep into the territory of the python cult and its priestess. She discerned reasons she believed accounted for his condition, including seeing a dead snake in the past, and performed healing rituals. In return for this service–Tété-Michel did survive–she expected his father to dedicate him to the python cult, as an apprentice for its priesthood. The young man was horrified at this prospect. An alternative came from an unlikely place!While he was still convalescing, the young man got books from the missionary bookshop in their town of Lomé. Among these was a book about Greenland, The Eskimos from Greenland to Alaska by Dr. Robert Gessain. He studied its photographs and learned that Greenland lay mostly north of the Arctic Circle and was incredibly cold (not sweltering as it is in Togo), but above all, it had no snakes! He adopted a fixed purpose–to leave his home and travel by himself to Greenland, going as far north as he could, and settling there. It was 1957 when he resolved to do this and made plans to run away. He would go to Abidjan in the Ivory Coast and visit an aunt who lived there; from that point, instead of returning home, he would work his way up the West African coast, obtain passage to Europe, and finally, sail to Greenland from Denmark.His arrival in Julianehab (now called Qaqortoq) on the southwestern tip of Greenland took 8 years to accomplish, but it was just the beginning. He wished to move farther north to “the Greenland of my dreams. I wanted to live with the seal hunters, ride in a sledge, sleep in an igloo” (p. 112). Anyone reading his memoir up to this point will have no doubt that if he can find the means, he has more than enough determination to do all these things.As it turned out, he did all these things and more. To read my full review, visit

  • Rusalka
    2018-10-06 13:03

    I loved the thought of this book when I heard about it. The idea that a young African boy learns about a place like Greenland and then runs off to live there. It’s so ridiculous and yet so fantastical.That’s the story of Michel. He grew up with his father’s family on the coast of Togo and starts with a lovely whimsical illustration of his life there, starting with an encounter with a snake up a coconut tree. There was something so jovial and carefree about the stories of him in Africa, first in Togo and then as he journeys to Greenland, through the entire north-west of Africa earning money, in to Europe and beyond.The thing that starts being apparent during this journey is that Michel is a very privileged African boy. He has been schooled and knows a couple of languages (benefit of Togo being an ex-French colony of course). But this seems to have made his transition through Europe and ability to get jobs much easier. Lucky him of course, but it starts to draw away from his “typical” African boy image.I really liked the book and was recommending it to everyone, until I got to Greenland.Now the book wasn't bad from Greenland on. However it began to take on this air of condescending judgement. Michel wasn't happy with the people he found in Greenland. He didn't approve of their lifestyle all that much. He had an idealised idea of what Intuits should be, without much knowledge of the background of the area (Denmark colonised Greenland and was very big on getting the Intuit’s to give up their traditional way of doing things, but without much consideration to what they should be doing instead). As like most people with uninformed, idealised points of view, he was a little disappointed. And not to mention had a huge heap of double standards. Alcohol and promiscuity wasn't his thing. Unless he was doing it. He even goes on to mention that he is happy to sleep around, but not happy when it’s “his” girl who does it. I am not sure if this is a result of his home polygamous culture, a result of being a product of the 1950s-1970s or just being a misogynist.Otherwise it was a good introduction into the ways of the Greenlandic community, their culture and their activities. There is a lot of blood and slaughtering in this book. If you don’t like the thought of people eating meat or whale blubber raw, this probably isn't for you. But if you get over that slight turn of your stomach when he describes his meals there is a lot to learn.I did enjoy it, don’t misunderstand me. I just am frustrated that a book that started out so well fell into the trap of the usual judgement of other cultures. “It’s not what I expected and therefore it’s not the right way to act”. And hypocrisy always annoys me. So it’s not one I’ll be running out and telling everyone to read any more. But it’s still worth a good 3 stars.For more reviews visit

  • Josh
    2018-10-15 09:11

    Funny, perceptive, brutal but ultimately kind travelogue by a guy from Togo who becomes fixated on Greenland as a child in the 1950s and spends eight years working his way up through Africa and Europe to Greenland. Of particular interest is the extreme cuisine and the national sport of wife-swapping. Here is his description of a dinner party:"Hans and Cecilia took me to dinner with Augustina and her husband Jorgensen, their neighbors and friends. When we reached the house no meal was ready, but a whole seal, caught by netting, was waiting for us on the floor. The animal was placed on a sheet of cardboard, its hind fins resting on its plump belly, the lower part of the stomach slit open and the intestines spilling out. As soon as we had sat down at the table, Cecilia got up, took a bowl which a neighbor woman handed her, and emptied the intestines into it by pulling them out hand over hand. Slowly the belly subsided. Augustina used a knife to slit the seal further towards the chest: the layer of blubber that then emerged was yellower, not so pink as the layer already exposed. She slid her hand into the stomach, delved expertly using only her sense of touch, and tore out bits of the lungs and then the liver, which we ate raw. These were the hors d'oeuvres. Our hands were red with seal blood; it even got into the children's hair. Next came the main course, also raw. While the women were butchering the animal and bringing in bits of meat, we men were drinking the generous tots of imiak that Augustina kept pouring between mouthfuls. Her husband, a stocky and at first sober-seeming fellow, grew merrier and laughed more loudly after each glass. Drawing his wife close to him, he asked me:'Isn't she pretty? Plump and dimpled - tasty! If you like,' he added, clinking glasses with me, 'you can be kamak, the two of you.'Kamak is a corrupt form of the Danish word Kammerat (comrade), here meaning intimate friend."

  • Devon
    2018-09-26 16:11

    I was intrigued by the strength of purpose Kpomassie had to get to Greenland. Sometimes things don't make sense--you may have a desire to go somewhere that you don't understand and that is reason enough just to go. I rooted for him all through his long journey of various jobs to save in different locations working his way up out of Togo to Denmark from where he set sail. The photos of him among the natives inset in the book tell much of the story. Obviously he is a very determined, open-hearted and just plain delightful person who was well received and earned his keep by participating in any way he could. Much of the description of the cultural practices, however, left me cold and alienated: wife sharing (I'd like to hear the women's perspective on that), the drunkenness, patriarchy, many descriptions of seal butchering (I know it's what they eat and they use all parts, but that would be too much for me to stomach--I can't even cut up a chicken from the supermarket without wanting to yark). They live in constant dangers of cruel winters and changes of weather that can kill as well as the presence of barely domesticated sled dogs who are known to kill people if hungry enough. Still, there's a sense of normalcy in the culture despite all these hazards--a sense of place at the mercy of the elements, respect for the power of nature that they must work with, never against. (Of course someone was murdered during the spring warming, shrug the elders, what do you expect in a seasonal change? )There are amazing descriptions of being pulled by a dog team, sea voyages in the arctic waters, the dangers of super cooled bodies of water, the constant danger of cruel winters and severe weather changes that can kill, the complex personalities, relationships and practices that make up human community everywhere. A very unique story and a great read.

  • Sally
    2018-10-02 16:49

    "I...began dreaming of eternal cold", April 12, 2016This review is from: An African in Greenland (New York Review Books Classics) (Paperback)Fascinating travel book, in which the reader encounters two vastly different societies. The author describes his young life in Togo, culminating in a visit to a - wonderfully described - python priestess, with all her voodoo paraphernalia.Inspired by a book on the Eskimos, which he finds on the bookshelf of the local mission, he determines to go to Greenland; the next section of the book explains his lengthy journey across Europe, and the helpful people he met en route. Some years on, he finds himself in S Greenland, and here begins the main part of the tale, as he makes his way from the relatively westernized Julianehab to the north. Life becomes increasingly brutal, dirty and harsh as he enters the real Greenlandic world.Highly readable and full of interesting facts: the criminal system; Arctic 'madness'; the dogs - who live a hard life, and can turn on humans and kill, and who are another source of food for the Greenlanders. The author compares the native beliefs in spirits have a parallel with those in Africa.And, above all, vivid descriptions of the place, such as his first experience of the Northern Lights:"Suddenly looking up, I saw long white streaks whirling in the wind above my head. It was like the radiance of some invisible hearth, from which dazzling light rays shot out, streamed into space, and spread to form a great deep-folded phosphorescent curtain which moved and shimmered, turning rapidly from white to yellow, from pink to red...the wind shook it gently like an immense transparent drapery ...Its movements were now regular as an ocean swell, now hurried, jerky, leaping and tumbling like a kite."Great read.

  • Tammy
    2018-10-03 15:07

    I just finished reading this book for my friend's book group. I really didn't know too much about Greenland beforehand, and I suppose I didn't have too much interest. The cold and lack of sunlight doesn't appeal to me, but it was really interesting learning about the people who live there and experiencing it through the eyes of a young man from Togo, West Africa. The beginning of the book was a faster read for me- the part about his life in Togo and the journey north, though some of it was somewhat disturbing. One of the aspects I found most intriguing about the Greenland portion was the food they eat. I will save the rest of my thoughts for the book group discussion, for now, except for two more things... The movie Atanarjuat (The Fast Runner) may be interesting to see again now that I have read this book. It is a film about an Inuit legend, set in the Arctic, and written, directed, and acted in the Inuktitut language- spoken by the Inuit tribes of northern Canada. It would be interesting to compare and contrast with the book. I also am interested in learning more about the effects of climate change on the arctic. There is a book called Silent Snow: The Slow Poisoning of the Arctic. The author, Marla Cone, investigates what is called the Arctic Paradox: “Arctic people and animals are hundreds of miles from any significant source of pollution, living in one of the most desolate spots on the planet,” she writes, yet “they are among the planet's most contaminated living organisms.” I want to learn more about this- I guess pollutants are drawn towards cold climates and travel there on air currents, in rivers, and even via birds and other animals. So, this book, An African in Greenland, was a good one to broaden my awareness of an interest in this distant place and people!

  • Leslie
    2018-09-26 11:10

    Reading about people who take unusual paths in life is often interesting. As someone with a longstanding interest in anthropology, this book was more than usually interesting to me, as the overlay of Kpomassie's vision of Greenland, his experience of Greenland, and Greenland itself provide plenty of opportunity for cultural mental blubberous meat to chew on. Kpomassie is not primarily a writer nor someone with a great degree of insight nor interest in people, and this becomes frustrating as he describes in great detail dog and seal butchering techniques instead of the nuances of character, culture, self-examination, and environment that a keener observer could bring to the page. Nonetheless, it's a story that can't truly fail to be interesting to the amateur anthropologist. Not for the faint of heart or sensitive of gut, however; hunting and butchering do play a central role in the life of northern Greenlanders, as they do in this book, and Kpomassie's digressions into the Inuit (current-for-the-time) relationship with huskies will be challenging for dog idealizing readers.

  • Rachelfm
    2018-10-10 10:11

    This was a most singular travel memoir and ethnography. Kpomassie grows up in Togo and around the time of independence reads a book about Greenland Eskimos. The trip to Greenland takes him six years, during which time he develops a broader pan-African and Francophone identity as he's working through W. Africa and France to earn money for the trip.The book is written like a great ethnography and a great memoir. Kpomassie's observations about Greenland are first filtered through his tribal, then African, then Francophone world views. There are aspects of life in Greenland that he likely finds more relatable than a typical Western European would, because of some of the profoundly non-western traditions of the Greenlanders. There are also traditions that he likely has a harder time reconciling than a westerner would have, in large part because the Greenlanders don't prize age and patriarchy in the same way that the Togolese do.Funny, well written and honestly observed, Kpomassie dove straight into this culture and described it with warmth.