After spending seven seasons in Greenland, Gretel Erhlich imparts her experience and the history of this icy island in This Cold Heaven. I am torn with this review. Ehrlich is definitely a gifted writer:
We flew up the sleeve of the 106-mile long Kangerlussuaq Fjord. The water was black and the mountains were brown, ending in broken snow-covered peaks. Streams threaded through the creases in three-billion-year-old rock, the result of roiling magma that cooled into gray.
I would be carried away by her beautiful prose, thinking “Yes! I could see myself in Greenland!” only to remind myself that 1) it is nothing but snow and ice, 2) the temperature is 25 below zero, and 3) there is no sun at all for nine months of year. And despite all the lovely verse, Erhlich doesn’t really share any charming or funny stories of her time there. Nearly half the book is about the early 20th century explorer Knud Rasmussen, taken from his journals and stories about this Greenlandic legend from natives. I don’t mind learning about Rasmussen, but the level of her exposition should have been left to…well, a book about Knud Rasmussen.
I learned a few things about Greenland that I didn’t know. It’s population reflects the Danish settlement and it’s Inuit natives. Dogsled is a major mode of transportation, and the dogs are indigenous to Greenland, other breeds being banned from its shores. Greenlanders eat a lot of seal meat. The most humorous part of the book is the story of naming Greenland itself – the early Viking explorer Eric the Red named this island of ice and snow Greenland in the hopes of encouraging settlers. Imagine the horror in 985, when the first colonists arrived (after a dangerous and harrowing journey) to discover the fraud that had been perpetrated against them.
I’m glad I read this book because it’s always good to learn something new. Unfortunately, I didn’t particularly enjoy this book. Maybe you need to be an anthropologist, or snow and ice lover, to truly appreciate it.
3 stars (out of 5)
Published in 2003