Friday, December 12, 2014

Friday Reading Assignment: The Greenlanders

There was a meme going around a few weeks ago about "books that have stuck with you" and I wish I'd remembered to include The Greenlanders by  the incomparable Jane Smiley on my list.  I read it a long time ago (it was published in 1988) and since Grace recently wrote a paper about the Norse colonization of Greenland, I was reminded of this book.  It has been so long that I can't remember the characters' names, or any plot details but the novel's stark feeling has stuck with me.

The medieval colony on Greenland gradually became more and more isolated as the Little Ice Age took hold and their winters became longer and harsher.  One major drawback of Greenland is that it lacks trees, so as the original settlers' ships rotted and visitors from Denmark dwindled, they were literally stranded.  In the novel, there's talk of a few hardy folks making the dangerous sea voyage to Vinland (Labrador) where there are trees and they can build a ship, but it never works out.  It's this unrelenting bleakness that has stuck with me all these years: each winter harsher than the last, the livestock herds growing smaller, the growing season shortening.

I read the Amazon customer reviews, (affiliate link, yo) to jog my memory, so I can tell you that The Greenlanders was written in the style of a saga (I had forgotten that) and that the plot centers on an unhappy marriage.  Mostly what I remember is people tucking themselves into their Scandinavian built-in beds, for the duration of the winter, which is pretty much what I would like to do right now.

1 comment:

  1. I read her 'A Thousand Acres', which has similarly stuck with me.
    Going to bed for the winter sounds good to me.