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An African in Greenland

3.97  ·  Rating Details ·  455 Ratings  ·  82 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 ...more
Paperback, 300 pages
Published October 31st 2001 by NYRB Classics (first published January 1st 1981)
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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
This is the book that made me think there was some worth to following the NYRB Classics imprint, least until the usual inundation of names that don't appear quite as often on lists like the Modern Library 100 as others started up. Sure, some of them were new to me, but you can't expect to hook me through an ethnography written by a Togo traveler journeying to near the farthest north of indigenous Greenland and have the latest less than obscenely famous Frenchy boy scribble go down just as smooth ...more
Book Riot Community
Good bananas, I learned a lot from this book, which is the memoir of a man from a small African village who spends the better part of a decade getting to Greenland and then several years in Greenland, just generally be a badass and being 100% down for whatever adventures come his way. Like, I learned that if you go to Greenland and knock on a stranger’s door they’ll say, “What’s up, come in and eat raw blubber and also live here now,” and then you’ll be like, “Sure, cool, thanks,” and sleep in a ...more
Oct 06, 2011 RandomAnthony rated it liked it
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.

Mar 09, 2014 Louise rated it it was amazing
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
Aug 10, 2016 Ken rated it really liked it
Breezy, well-written, straightforward narrative about an African lad who sees a book about Greenland, develops an interest, and, as a young man, follows through on his dream. Kpomassie stands out in more ways than one once he arrives--a black man in a green land is most unusual--but he also stands out for his height. Punch line (and statement about Greenlanders): He's only 5' 10".

Kpomassie is a good storyteller. The opening chapters take place in his native Togo. One particularly entertaining ch
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
Shawn Mooney
Oct 12, 2016 Shawn Mooney rated it it was amazing
Shelves: read-in-2016
I fell in love with the book's title, and then I discovered that the author, Tété-Michel Kpomassie, fell in love with Greenland from the title of a book he happened upon in his native Togo as a teenager, triggering his life-changing quest to visit the country arguably most different from his own. The fact that this quest got him out of Togo, and thus out of a seven-year apprenticeship with a snake-worship cult, made the beginning of this memoir read like a gripping novel.

It takes him more than t
Tracy Shapley
Jul 02, 2016 Tracy Shapley rated it it was amazing
I feel pretty confident that anyone who's capable of experiencing joy would love An African in Greenland by Tete-Michel Kpomassie. As the title implies, it is the story of an African man who travels to Greenland. Until his travels begin, he lives a pretty sheltered life within an African village where the men have numerous wives and everyone wears loin clothes. So you can imagine some of the predicaments the author gets himself into as he spends years working his way from Africa to Greenland.

Feb 14, 2012 Susann rated it really liked it
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
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
Suzze Tiernan
Jun 17, 2016 Suzze Tiernan rated it really liked it
Interesting "travel" book. A young African boy reads a book on Greenland, and, as an adult, moves there, living with native families.
Rambling Reader
Sep 13, 2015 Rambling Reader rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2015, france, nyrb, history, memoirs
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
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
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
May 27, 2016 Devon rated it liked it
I was intrigued by the strength of purpose Kpomassie had to get to Greenland. Sometimes things don't make sense--you may have a desire to go somewhere that you don't understand and that is reason enough just to go. I rooted for him all through his long journey of various jobs to save in different locations working his way up out of Togo to Denmark from where he set sail. The photos of him among the natives inset in the book tell much of the story. Obviously he is a very determined, open-hearted ...more
Sally Tarbox
Apr 12, 2016 Sally Tarbox rated it really liked it
Shelves: travel
"I...began dreaming of eternal cold", April 12, 2016

This review is from: An African in Greenland (New York Review Books Classics) (Paperback)
Fascinating travel book, in which the reader encounters two vastly different societies. The author describes his young life in Togo, culminating in a visit to a - wonderfully described - python priestess, with all her voodoo paraphernalia.
Inspired by a book on the Eskimos, which he finds on the bookshelf of the local mission, he determines to go to Greenla
Feb 16, 2014 Tammy rated it really liked it
Shelves: memoir
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 ...more
Sep 05, 2014 Leslie rated it really liked it
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 ...more
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
Nov 09, 2011 Corto rated it really liked it
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
Jul 12, 2015 David rated it it was amazing
This book is an improbable but gripping story. The author grew up in Togo, in tropical West Africa, and happened upon a book about Greenland. He felt he must go there, and after years of work in different places, finally managed to do so, and lived among the Inuit in various places there. The books chronicles his adventures, his reactions, and the customs of the people he met, which, to say the least, were neither those of his country nor ours.

Translated from the French, the book is an easy rea
Michele Benson
Apr 25, 2016 Michele Benson rated it liked it
I learned a lot about Greenland from this book. The Inuits do not like to be called Eskimos, they are charitable and hospitable and their love lives are extremely "free". Most of the book dealt with the Inuit culture, but in Africa, the author was one of 27 children. He barely escaped being given to a python cult before he began his journey. This was a happy book from Africa, the first one on my list that did not involve war. Rather than count this as my book from Togo, it should probably count ...more
Feb 27, 2009 Jessica rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Choupette; Ben Harrison
Fascinating...well-written and engaging. A boy leaves his village in Africa (after a snake bite, falling from a tree, and other mishaps) and journeys to the Arctic to live among the Inuit. Wonderfully detailed.
May 30, 2016 Deborahanndilley rated it it was amazing
This book was an amazing, random find that I can not recommend enough. It was a book that transports you to another place and portrays the Inuit of Greenland with brutal honesty and humanity. It was lovely.
Kobe Bryant
Aug 07, 2014 Kobe Bryant rated it really liked it
Pretty cool if you want to read about people eating some real gross food and how all the girls wanted to be with him
Patty Hurley
Oct 29, 2016 Patty Hurley rated it liked it
I read this book because Lisa Glaser (Michael Pekowsky's wife) had picked it up at some house they were renting for vacation and he said she really enjoyed it. It is a strange ethnographic memoir of a young man from Togo who decides to go to Greenland. The first quarter of the book is his saga in getting there (working his way up the coast of Africa and then working his way across Europe, where he finds a modest patron who subsidizes his time in Greenland). He stays with Greenlanders (Inuit) ...more
Nina Chachu
A fascinating story, especially given the period in which it takes place. After completing the book I wondered, what happened to the author? Did he go back to Togo? Or to Europe?
Sep 21, 2016 Jenni rated it it was amazing
Truth is better than fiction. A heartwarming story that proves how more alike we are as humans than different.
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Afro Book Club: An African in Greenland - Book Discussion 15 25 Aug 11, 2014 07:11AM  
NYRB Classics: An African in Greenland, by Tété-Michel Kpomassie 1 5 Oct 18, 2013 11:05AM  
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Tété-Michel Kpomassie is an explorer and writer from Togo, and the author of An African in Greenland.

Kpomassie was awarded the Prix Litteraire Francophone International in 1981. In 2003, Leonard Lopate interviewed Kpomassie on WNYC for The Leonard Lopate Show.

In New York City, in September 2009, the Elizabeth Foundation for the Arts and Flux Factory organized an exhibition called Arctic Book Club
More about Tété-Michel Kpomassie...

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