Tony's Reviews > No One Thinks of Greenland: A Novel

No One Thinks of Greenland by John Griesemer
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Oct 05, 10

bookshelves: novels, to-read-own, loanable
Read in January, 2010

I saw this book mentioned several years ago as an overlooked gem and figured I'd check it out. Ever since I flew over Greenland while en route to Iceland, the place has intrigued me, and the book's premise of a post-Korean War secret military hospital on the southern tip was intriguing. The story follows Cpl. Rudy Spruance, who steps off a plane in 1959 not really knowing where he is or why he's there. This turns out to be a classic Army snafu, as the hospital has no need for his skills as an information officer. But the base's nutty commander, Col. Woolwrap, decides to keep Spruance and have him start a base newspaper in order to raise morale.

The book is long on atmosphere, as the harsh and unvarying climate and terrain act as a surreal claustrophobic prison of both body and mind. There's an element of mystery to it all, as Spruance seeks to discover the secret behind the men cared for in a special secured wing, and what happened to Col. Woolrap in Korea. The other significant plotline involves the Colonel's sexy aide-de-camp (and lover), who rather inexplicably falls into a torrid affair with Spruance, and their attempt to keep things secret. This latter storyline doesn't work very well, as it's never established why she would go for him at all.

The book succeeds largely on mood and in the smaller scenes, which are evocative and well told. The opening, in which Spruance is mauled by mosquitoes and almost dies, is a great example of the weird pockets that exist in the story. Another memorable moment is a scene in which drunk soldiers go polar bear hunting in a jeep. However, the overall story never quite worked for me, and I'm not sure why. It might be that this kind of story about the military has been told before (the most familiar examples being Catch-22 and M*A*S*H and to a certain extent Johnny Got His Gun, and in countless less well known but excellent books such as Buffalo Soldiers). It's just not as subversive as it seems to want to be, but portions of it display some real talent, and I'm curious to check out what else the author has done.

Note: The fictional hospital and airfield in this book was very loosely inspired by the non-secret WWII-era U.S. military hospital and airfield at Narsarsuaq, Greenland, which was shut down after the war but then reopened in for a period of time in the mid-1950s.
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