2x poplars
Photo of the Yukon by nordicshutter used under a Creative Commons license.

Jill Fredston, Rowing to Latitude (North Point Press, 2001).
Fredston is an avalanche expert who lives near Anchorage nine months out of the year; for the other three months, she and her husband take long-distance trips in oceangoing rowing shells in colder climes. This book is the story of 20,000 miles of kayaking along the coasts of British Columbia, Alaska, Yukon, Greenland, Labrador, and Norway, with a little of Sweden and Washington thrown in for good measure. Oh, she rowed 2,000 miles down the Yukon River to the Bering Strait, and before she reached the Yukon coast on that other trip she rowed down hundreds of miles down the Mackenzie River from Hay River, Northwest Territories. For those of us who dream about such trips but likely will never feather an oar in those waters, Fredston’s book is a wonderful opportunity to row vicariously — a better way to experience the tedium, mosquitoes, and bears. The book won a 2002 National Outdoor Book Award.

Here (scroll down) is Fredston’s bio at the National Avalanche School. You’ll find an excerpt here. Philip Johns says it’s a tremendous book. Dana De Zoysa says Fredston writes rings around mass-market travel scribblers (whomever they may be). Judyth Willis particularly likes Fredston’s connection with the coasts of Yukon and Labrador. David would reread it in a heartbeat. Carol Standish is glad that it’s not a sloppy paean to nature. KiwiBird appreciates Fredston’s thoughts about what’s truly wild (and she should know). Brian Handwerk (National Geographic) picks up on the same theme. Sarah Sammis says it’s one of the best books she’s ever read. It’s Katie Lindsay’s favorite travel writing book (or was in 2004). Karen Karbo (The New York Times) focuses on Fredston’s husband. Gavin J. Grant interviewed Fredston.

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Snow in Copenhagen
Photo of Copenhagen by Siebuhr used under a Creative Commons license.

Peter Høeg, Smilla’s Sense of Snow (Delta, 1995).

A small boy falls from the roof of Smilla Qaavigaaq Jasperson’s Copenhagen apartment building. An expert on the properties of snow and ice, she looks at the footprints and realizes that the boy ran to his death. She determines to find out who was chasing him, leading to no end of complications. Smilla is half-Danish and half-Greenlander, and the action in this thriller involves both countries. Høeg’s third novel was the first to be translated from Danish, and is more literary than most genre fiction. Also published (in the UK) as Miss Smilla’s Feeling for Snow. Julia Ormond played Smilla in the 1997 movie, which did not get good reviews.

A flurry of reviews from Robert Nathan (The New York Times), Bridget, MagdaDH (and others), Danny Yee, Gnomey G, Isabella, John Regehr, Will, and Dave Knadler. It’s Tyler Cowen’s favorite Danish novel. And Wilson found an interesting receipt in his copy. Here is a scholarly article by Annalies van Hees called “Fiction and Reality in Smilla’s Sense of Snow.”

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Kulusuk, Greenland
Photo of Kulusuk, Greenland, by nick_russill used under a Creative Commons license.

Tété-Michel Kpomassie, An African in Greenland (NYRB, 2001).
As a teenager in Togo in the 1950s, Kpomassie was sent to a local python cult to help him recover from near-fatal injuries suffered in a fall. Kpomassie found another cure: he came across a book about Greenland and became obsessed with the idea of voyaging there. Over several years, he made his way to France and then finally found passage to Greenland. When he arrived, he was a minor celebrity, the first African or black person most of the natives had seen. He then traveled up the west coast, though he turned around before he reached his goal of Thule in the north. Kpomassie has a fantastic tale to tell, and he is a lucid observer of the customs of the many Greenlanders who took him into their homes.

A. Alvarez’s introduction to the NYRB edition is available here (.pdf). Listen to Kpomassie’s appearance on The Leonard Lopate Show on WNYC in 2003. John Derbyshire writes about the book in The New Criterion. Matt Steinglass recommends it in his piece on Togo for Salon’s Literary Guide to the World.

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