A family saga of Norse settlers in 14th century Greenland written in full-blown saga style. A dark story of the decline of a society in isolation. The matter-of-fact tone makes it intensely readable for fans of epics, as major plot events are sprinkled without warning among the details of domestic life.
I loved this book. It was an ethno vacation to a vanished culture. The Norse colony on Greenland lasted almost 500 years. Jane Smiley relates sixty years in the life of one family in quotidian detail with something exciting happening every so often, the way life was for most people in the past. This is a book to savor over the course of a month. Get in your time machine and spend an hour with the Greenlanders. You'll remember your trips long afterwards.
This is very different from the other Jane Smiley books I've read. I'm knocked out that she can write in such different styles, and I loved this book.
Norse people settled on Greenland for about four hundred years, until the Little Ice Age made it impossible for them to survive there in about 1400. I was surprised when, about a hundred pages in, I found myself getting completely absorbed in this book and its world. It's told in what can seem like a kind of flat style, maybe like Saga stories from Iceland, and there are over a hundred characters with crazy Viking names, so sometimes it's hard to remember who is who. Life was so bleak and violent, and all of the sudden, a character I'd come to care about would get crushed in the ice, starve to death, die in childbirth, or be bloodily murdered. I got caught up in the rhythms of survival in the north, the spring seal hunt, the short summer of constant hard work, the fall seal hunt, Yule, the hungry time of the year. I have a big weakness for historical fiction, and Greenland is such an alien and interesting place. Plus, it's like reading about the Donner Party or that guy who went up to Alaska and wound up having his story turned into Into the Wild-- you know they're doomed, and it's interesting seeing how it's going to play out.
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