May 2 2011

a library in a turf hut in the arctic circle

An African in Greenland by Tete-Michel KpomassieI can’t believe it took me so long to find this book. Tete-Michel’s An African in Greenland was first published in 1981, republished twenty years later, and it was ten years after that it came to my attention–and I’m the kind of person who goes looking for books. It makes me wonder many things, like what else is out there still waiting to be discovered, and would the book have survived to be found if it only existed as a digital file on some server?

This passage belongs in my collection of “rooms full of books” even though there isn’t a book in the room at all. It is, however, a library: kept by an old Inuit man who lives in a turf hut in Upernavik, Greenland–well above the Arctic Circle.  The world is a curious place.

In his own way, old Robert was a “bookworm” whose favorite reading matter was restricted entirely to periodicals. Every week for many years now he had been getting hold of magazines dealing with “world affairs.” And even now when he avoided going out as much as possible because of the curiosity his appearance aroused in the village—his wife, his daughter, his youngest son Niels, aged fifteen, and his two married sons who also lived in Upernavik, continued to buy them for him. But therein lay the rub: these magazines, reviews and newspapers began to make such a clutter on the floor that one day old Rebekka suggested throwing them out the window. Alarmed, the old man began sorting out this junkheap and pinning on the wall the articles he wanted to reread. And so—casually, almost unintentionally—a first layer of printed pages spread over the four walls, followed in time by a second layer, a third, and even a fourth layer…The first pages dated from five years back and, as new pages had kept being added to the old ones, my host had great difficulty locating old articles or documents he needed.”

From An African in Greenland by Tete-Michel Kpomassie, published by nyrb classics, 2001.