Friday, 2 November 2012

An African In Greenland - #18

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.

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