Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Reviewed by Danielle Watt
Danielle Watt is a Project Manager at Lonely Planet, who fantasizes about living in colder climes and is currently deeply in love with Scotland and icebergs.
I cannot adequately explain my fascination with ice and snow. I love the properties of snow; the way is it can cover unsightly things, the sound of it under my feet, its treachery and its power. Which is why This Cold Heaven: Seven Seasons in Greenland by Gretel Erlich piqued my interest.
What I quickly realized is that a fondness for ice and snow and a vague notion of ‘one day’ seeing a place like the Arctic circle is not a patch on Erlich’s chronicle of her total immersion in the climate, culture and mindset of Greenland and its tenacious inhabitants.
Starting in 1993, Erlich undertook an astonishing series of visits to Greenland that lasted over a period of seven years. Inspired by the writings of Knut Rasmussen (a self styled ethnographer for the Inuit and the father of ‘Eskimology’) Erlich plunges into the subsistence hunting culture of Polar Eskimos; at times living on the ice for weeks.
This Cold Heaven is a startling, lyrical portrait of a natural world that is hostile and deadly, but which is also bewitching in its power and beauty. This is a place where the sun never sets or never rises for months at a time. It is a land where people scrounge out an existence from rock and ice that is diametrically opposed to the urban consumerism that most of us are surrounded by.
Erlich’s great skill is to reveal Greenland and the different elements of the Inuit lifestyle without resorting to dry cataloguing. This is not an assessment of Greenland and its people as an intellectual exercise; in essence This Cold Heaven is Erlich’s love letter to Greenland and its people. Her passion for Greenland, its people and its ice is evident in every word.
I started Erlich’s book being unable to understand how anyone could choose to exist on the edge of nature in the way the Polar Eskimos do. It is easy to arrogantly assume that it is because they have no other choice or that they have imported all the ‘mod-cons’ so to make it bearable to live there. Oh what folly! After reading This Cold Heaven: Seven Seasons in Greenland, it is clear that what the people of the Artic circle have is precious beyond imagining and that we will be all the poorer if we lose it to global warming.Publishers: Please send titles to be considered for review to:
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