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This Cold Heaven: Seven Seasons in Greenland   book icon  
by Gretel Ehrlich (2001)

read: 2 December 2003
rating: [+]
category: uncategorized

Started reading this as the temperatures dipped into the teens here in Vermont and the windows weren’t plasticked and it felt damned cold. Then I read about these month long subsistence-hunting dogsled trips and I warmed right up thinking “well, at least I can feel my toes.” Ehrlich has a love affair with Greenland and some medical issue having to do with her heart that I couldn’t quite suss out was responsible for her going there once and then returning over and over for a period of seven years. This book is a collection of travelogues of that time.

Greenland is different from the US, and in fact different from most “civilized” places. People live more marginally, have very different social customs as a result and deal with strangers differently. Certain things that I know that I take for granted like private ownership of land, private property in general, and a cash economy are not givens there. Ehrlich discusses these issues in a very happenstance way, not in an “oh look how weird these people are” but also not in a “oh look how noble these people are” Her language is poetic and her observations are compelling. She intersperses her travelogues with those of Knud Rasmussen who had some of the earliest Western interactions with many of the indigenous peoples in the area. Like Rasmussen, Ehrlich respects and honors the cultures she interacts with while also knowing herself to be at some level not of their culture. This book will make you chilly to read it.

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