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An African in Greenland
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An African in Greenland

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3.93 of 5 stars 3.93  ·  rating details  ·  269 ratings  ·  54 reviews
Tété-Michel Kpomassie was a teenager in Togo when he discovered a book about Greenland—and knew that he must go there. Working his way north over nearly a decade, Kpomassie finally arrived in the country of his dreams. This brilliantly observed and superbly entertaining record of his adventures among the Inuit is a testament both to the wonderful strangeness of the human s ...more
Paperback, 300 pages
Published October 31st 2001 by NYRB Classics (first published January 1st 1981)
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Community Reviews

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Hadrian
Well this is a book which will win readers from its intriguing title and premise. A young Togolese man reads about Greenland, and decides to travel there.

One would think that the desire to move from Togo to Greenland is a bit of adolescent rebellion, but the author takes eight years to save up the money and journey up through the Sahara and Europe to make his trip. If anything, it's a persistent sense of Wanderlust.

As it turns out, he was the first African to ever visit Greenland, so he's treate
...more
RandomAnthony
An African in Greenland made me rethink travel literature. Most travel writers seem to want to sound as if they're especially clever and removed. They amplify each experience for dramatic effect. I don't know there's anything wrong with that. But An African in Greenland takes a different route. Tete-Michel Kpomassie rambles, judges, exclaims, and wonders about Greenland's landscape and inhabitants. He's not writing a National Geographic article. He's writing a much more fun and honest book.

Whil
...more
Louise
Tete-Michek Kpomassi stepped outside his tradition. He would not stay with his Watyi tribe in Togo and revere his elders, swelter in the heat or do any further penance to reptiles. After seeing a book on the Eskimos of Greenland in a mission bookstore he set his sights on going to their cold, snake-less island. It took 8 years to reach his goal, but he got there.

Kpomassi had quite an adventure. In the Greenland of the 1960's he could knock on a door, say he was a traveler and then be given a pla
...more
Beverly
This was a 3.5 read for me.

My thoughts:
• I enjoy armchair travelling and a good travelogue especially to places I have not yet visited. This was an intriguing read as I learned about Togo and Greenland.
• Written with charm and wit, the author’s personality shines through and as your reader you understand Kpomassie’s charisma and ability to easily integrate himself into a society/culture to his own.
• While the author does not spend much time talking about Togo (except for the events that led to h
...more
Susann
Feb 14, 2012 Susann rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommended to Susann by: Idlewild Bookshop
Shelves: idlewild
I had never heard of this book until I learned that the Idlewild Books folks were going to discuss it. I'm so glad I took a chance on it, because it's like nothing I've ever read. It's a travel memoir about a teenager in Togo in the late 1950s, who decides he must visit Greenland and live with the locals. It takes him eight years to get there (a fascinating journey in itself which could easily fill several stand-alone books) and, by my calculations, arrives in 1965.

Obviously, Kpomassie's story
...more
VeganMedusa
This was more than I expected. I wasn't expecting the author to be so diligent - learning the languages of the people he visited, studying historical records to see how customs in Greenland had changed, etc. He didn't do a lot of comparing Togolese customs to Inuit, but there was some.

At the same time, while I knew there was going to be plenty to disgust a vegan (I'm not judging the Inuit for that, they live the way they need to live, it's just gross to read about) there was SO MUCH eating of se
...more
Leslie
Reading about people who take unusual paths in life is often interesting. As someone with a longstanding interest in anthropology, this book was more than usually interesting to me, as the overlay of Kpomassie's vision of Greenland, his experience of Greenland, and Greenland itself provide plenty of opportunity for cultural mental blubberous meat to chew on. Kpomassie is not primarily a writer nor someone with a great degree of insight nor interest in people, and this becomes frustrating as he d ...more
Rachelfm
This was a most singular travel memoir and ethnography. Kpomassie grows up in Togo and around the time of independence reads a book about Greenland Eskimos. The trip to Greenland takes him six years, during which time he develops a broader pan-African and Francophone identity as he's working through W. Africa and France to earn money for the trip.

The book is written like a great ethnography and a great memoir. Kpomassie's observations about Greenland are first filtered through his tribal, then A
...more
Tammy
I just finished reading this book for my friend's book group. I really didn't know too much about Greenland beforehand, and I suppose I didn't have too much interest. The cold and lack of sunlight doesn't appeal to me, but it was really interesting learning about the people who live there and experiencing it through the eyes of a young man from Togo, West Africa. The beginning of the book was a faster read for me- the part about his life in Togo and the journey north, though some of it was somew ...more
Harry Rutherford
An African in Greenland is an autobiographical book; as a teenager in Togo, Tété-Michel Kpomassie read a book about Greenland and decided to go there. It took him eight years, working a variety of jobs, to make his way up through West Africa and Europe before eventually arranging a trip to Greenland, where he stayed for about two years (in, if I’ve got my sums right, 1965).

The book’s title implies that there is some kind of different perspective that Kpomassie is going to bring because he’s Afri
...more
Rusalka
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
...more
Lucy Pollard-Gott
Tété-Michel Kpomassie is an extraordinary person and an extraordinary writer. His decision to leave his native Togo in 1959 and travel alone to Greenland puts him among some of the most determined Arctic travelers of the last few centuries. His choice of destination is surprising, until one reads his account of it. This book, his absorbing travel memoir, won the Prix Littéraire Francophone in 1981.

His first chapter, “The Snake in the Coconut Tree,” reads like the excellent start of an absorbing
...more
Kobe Bryant
Pretty cool if you want to read about people eating some real gross food and how all the girls wanted to be with him
Richard Brand
There is nothing in this story that makes any sense. Why would a 14 year old young person from Togo want to go to Greenland? How do you make that trip and have all those good things happen to you. The whole journey is irrational, but it happened. The story is well told. There are patches of the story that get "old" and the description of some of the customs and some of the experiences in the ice and cold get rather long and slow reading. But it is an amazing adventure. It is so strange that one ...more
Xyz13
Sep 18, 2014 Xyz13 rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Inuit, Togolese, anyone interested in other cultures
Shelves: travel
Kpomassie left his home in Togo as a teenager with nothing but a primary-school education, a great deal of personal charisma, and a dream of visiting Greenland. It took him years and a few adventures, but he got there.

He paints an arresting picture of the Greenlanders, especially of the tensions between their traditional way of life and the changes brought about by the presence of Europeans. Probably the greatest sign of his success was that, after reading this, for the first time I was consider
...more
Daniel
The author, as a teenager growing up in Togo in the 1950s, comes across a book about Greenland, becomes obsessed with visiting an environment so different from the one he knows, and runs away from home, spending eight years working his way through Europe before arriving in Greenland. Once there, he has the urge to travel further and further north to increasingly inhospitable and uninhabited regions. I loved Kpomassie's curiosity and charm and enjoyed his examinations of the differences between t ...more
Gavin
This was a pretty good read about a Togolese native's improbable journey to Greenland in the 1960's and 70's, Greenland being a place that likewise fascinates me. I thought the narrative ambled perhaps as much as Tete did though. Paul Zweig of the New York Times Book Review states that this book "contains a catalogue of [Tete's] impressions, combined with striking passages of fine writing." I certainly concur with the opinion that this book was more or less a disconnected "catalogue" of personal ...more
Darryl
This unique and highly entertaining travelogue begins in the west African country of Togo in the late 1950s, as the teenage author recuperates from a near fatal illness. Kpomassie, an avid reader, is enthralled by a book that he discovers at the town's evangelical bookshop, The Eskimos from Greenland to Alaska, with its descriptions of vast territory devoid of trees, eternal cold, hunters clothed in animal skins, and a society that valued the child above all else, which contrasted sharply with T ...more
Diane
Author Michel Kpomassie grew up in a traditional village in Togo in West Africa in the 1940’s and 1950’s. In the mid to late 1950’s, a chance encounter with a book in a missionary store (I love these chance encounters with books that change lives) gave Michel a passion for and the determination to visit Greenland. It took him 8 years to slowly make his way across Africa and Europe but he eventually arrived in Greenland. Along the way he made friends, became a self-educated man, and learned Engli ...more
Josh
Funny, perceptive, brutal but ultimately kind travelogue by a guy from Togo who becomes fixated on Greenland as a child in the 1950s and spends eight years working his way up through Africa and Europe to Greenland. Of particular interest is the extreme cuisine and the national sport of wife-swapping. Here is his description of a dinner party:

"Hans and Cecilia took me to dinner with Augustina and her husband Jorgensen, their neighbors and friends. When we reached the house no meal was ready, but
...more
Susan
This book - which I've planned to read for years - is an interesting account first of growing up in a very traditional household in Togo and then about life in Greenland in the 1970's or 1980's (not sure when.) His accounts of life in Togo and then in Greenland are fascinating but I would have liked to have more detail of the trip - not in the practical sense of who he lived with in the 8 years it took to get to Greenland (maybe more,don't recall) but about the pyschological experience. But that ...more
HA
This memoir is a great piece of popular anthropology about the indigenous and not-so-indigenous people of Greenland. The story about how he got there from West Africa was interesting enough. What he found when he arrived is just fascinating. He doesn't pull any punches and exposes a lot of warts, but in the end he develops a powerful empathy and kinship with the Greenlanders. I wish there was a sequel. I'd love to know what he discovered about people in general, during successive trips back and ...more
Baiocco
Jul 14, 2008 Baiocco added it
Recommends it for: Travellers
Shelves: autobiography
I had very high expectations for this book and even travelled to a library three towns away to check it out. It was about a boy from Africa who sees a picture of an eskimo in Greenland and plans a voyage to go there. The scenes in Africa were great, exotic, foreign, mystical, but once he begins describing his reactions to the 20th century inventions and western world attitudes that are foreign to him, I realize they are, unfortunately not foreign to me. So there wasn't much interest and insight ...more
ConnorD
This was Book of the Month for Afro Book Club here on goodreads. Really liked it - Kpomassie took me on a journey from Togo through Europe and then finally through to Greenland. Learnt a lot about the culture of the inhabitants of Greenland the further north the author travelled through the snowy landscape.
Ellen Young
This is a delightful memoir. Not only is the premise interesting, that a 16 year old boy in an African village should be struck with a desire to visit Greenland so strong that he leaves home and spends the next ten years making his way northward, but the author is an excellent writer with strong powers of perception and an ability to be honest about the people and lands he encounters. He's also adept at languages and filled with a great curiousity about the world, especially the cold, snowy land ...more
Ellen
Starts off slow, but as soon as his travels get underway things become fascinating. Kpomassie's observations of European customs are frankly hilarious, while his observations of the Inuit are simultaneously informative AND hilarious. Certain sections were (emotionally) difficult to read, but I was glad to see that he didn't hold back. Also, Kpomassie seemed to have an amazing talent at getting along with people, Rodeby notwithstanding.
The final chapter saddened me a bit, but I was glad to see w
...more
Nina
This was a fantastic travel book- well-written by a person who has a good sense of humor and is able to get along well with people. Not only did I learn some history about Greenland (and its Danish connection), but I also learned so much about the customs- the rampant sexuality and the promiscuity was really striking. I also loved the discussions about food and meals; the stuff they ate was interesting, such as the scene of the deal seal of the floor cabin when the protagonist arrives for dinner ...more
Shincrackerfarm
I confess to an obsession with Iceland, Greenland's more temperate neighbor. I discovered this book title when researching the immense, ice-capped island's fishing possibilities (trout, char and Atlantic salmon), obtained a copy and found it fascinating. Not just the author's adventure in Greenland, but finding his origins and getting-there an even more remarkable tale. Want to read a true story that both compels and amazes? Find this little beauty and enjoy the mental images it invokes!
Andrea Paterson
Mar 16, 2014 Andrea Paterson marked it as to-read
Around the World: Greenland/Togo
Laura Leigh
I thought the first 80 pages about his travels across Africa and Europe were more exciting than once he actually got to Greenland. I thought the stories about Greenland got repetitive over time and the book was too graphic to read before or after eating for me. I also didn't like how by the end he lost the literary tone, even addressing the reader directly. It dragged for me overall but it was my first glimpse of Greenland culture.
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Afro Book Club: An African in Greenland - Book Discussion 15 19 Aug 11, 2014 07:11AM  
NYRB Classics: An African in Greenland, by Tété-Michel Kpomassie 1 3 Oct 18, 2013 11:05AM  
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