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This Cold Heaven: Seven Seasons in Greenland

3.97  ·  Rating details ·  798 ratings  ·  126 reviews
For the last decade, Gretel Ehrlich has been obsessed by an island, a terrain, a culture, and the treacherous beauty of a world that is defined by ice. In This Cold Heaven she combines the story of her travels with history and cultural anthropology to reveal a Greenland that few of us could otherwise imagine.

Ehrlich unlocks the secrets of this severe land and those who liv
Paperback, 402 pages
Published January 7th 2003 by Vintage (first published 2001)
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Description: Beginning in 1993, Ehrlich traveled to Greenland, the northernmost country in the world, in every season--the four months of perpetual dark (in which the average temperature is 25 degrees below zero), the four months of constant daylight, and the twilight seasons in between--traveling up the west coast, often by dogsled, and befriending the resilient and generous Inuits along the way. Greenland, unlike its name, is 95 percent ice--a landscape of deep rock-walled fjords, glaciers, na ...more
Outstanding account of an American's experience of the environment and peoples of Greenland combined with chapters about Rasmussen's wide ranging trips to document Arctic cultures from 1910 to 1933. Great combination of reflection from personal experience and from historical and anthropological sources. Greenland, a Danish protectorate emerging into nationhood, has less than 60,000 people scattered among coastal villages in a huge territory, largely without roads. Unlike most Inuit societies of ...more
Sep 20, 2018 rated it it was amazing
It seems that once you have spent time in Greenland, it draws you back forever. Gretel Ehrlich spent considerable time there in the 1990s at a time when hunters were still spending months on the ice, living and hunting in traditional ways unchanged for thousands of years. Snowmobiles were just beginning to take over from dogsleds at this time though and older people feared that the younger generations would forget their history and traditions. Twenty years on, I suspect that will be coming true ...more
I never want to go to Greenland. English winters are quite dark and cold enough for me, and I don’t know if I could stomach seal meat at all, let alone for most meals and often raw. But that’s okay: I don’t need to book a flight to Qaanaaq, because through reading this I’ve already been in Greenland in every season. I’ve huddled onto a sled pulled by 20 dogs; I’ve gone hunting for polar bears; I’ve had a terrifying crash through thin ice. I’ve met Danes and Greenlanders of all ages and heard the ...more
My first reaction is an emotional one, a feeling of sadness at the loss of the traditional Eskimo culture, although I appreciate that there is an effort to keep the old ways alive and to teach these ways to the young generations. The author does not ignore the difficult aspects of the traditional life of subsistence hunters, which if the hunting is not good can mean starvation. Starvation can lead to the deaths of those who contribute the least and need the most, the children and old people, eat ...more
Oct 28, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Beautifully written, poetic prose from an author who is completely in love with Greenland and the arctic
Oh, Greenland. Someday I will get there and savour all the sights for myself. But for now I'll need to just live vicariously through books and authors detailing their adventures to the cold wonderland that is the Arctic.

Gretel Ehrlich details the cold winterland of Greenland, the hunters and ethnologists that trek over the country in hunt for food, solace and the secrets it hides. Part self-discovery, part romance, but biography, ethnological study, geographical study and all around wonderful s
Tim Martin
Aug 28, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: reviewed, travel, arctic
"This Cold Heaven" is more than anything an ode, a paean to Greenland by one woman. I think in some ways she loves that icebound land as much as Lawrence of Arabia was reported to love the desert, and perhaps for somewhat similar reasons. Her book was full of poetic descriptions of towering icebergs, driving snowstorms, crisp nearly eternal nights, and sheets of mirror-like ice. Admiring the vast ice sheet covering the island, which she described as "a siren singing me back to Greenland, its wal ...more
Oct 19, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: snow-and-ice
This gives a richly detailed account of travels in Greenland and living with Inuit people. Ehrlich lives in Wyoming, but travels regularly to Greenland during the 1990s, spending many months there. She follows in the footsteps of Rasmussen, a Danish-Greenlandic explorer and writer, who travelled widely in Greenland during the early 21st century, and recorded stories and religious beliefs of isolated Inuit cultures. She also writes about Rockwell Kent, a friend of Rasmussen's, an American painter ...more
After spending seven seasons in Greenland, Gretel Erhlich imparts her experience and the history of this icy island in This Cold Heaven. I am torn with this review. Ehrlich is definitely a gifted writer:

We flew up the sleeve of the 106-mile long Kangerlussuaq Fjord. The water was black and the mountains were brown, ending in broken snow-covered peaks. Streams threaded through the creases in three-billion-year-old rock, the result of roiling magma that cooled into gray.

I would be carried away by
This book gave me an outstanding view of Greenland and the traditional way of life of the Greenlanders as well as how their lives are changing with the arrival of modernity. I wasn't a fan of the writing, feeling that the author got lost in her thoughts while writing as she would while travelling on a sled, and there were a few repetition as if it wasn't edited. I liked however that she inserted in her narration a good chunk of Knud Rasmussen's adventures, an explorer of the early 20th century w ...more
Carl Safina
Nov 29, 2020 rated it really liked it
Gretel Ehrlich fell in love with the people, landscape, and lifeways of Greenland. I had an opportunity to compare notes with her in person many years after she made a series of trips to the high Greenlandic Arctic, which was many years after I spent several weeks on the Arctic Circle there doing research on falcons, and also had visited the Canadian high Arctic where the natives had foresaken dog-teams in favor of snowmobiles. So, I could relate to the landscapes and their allure, and to, for i ...more
The writer is a poet amongst other talents and the book flows with her descriptions of snow, ice, darkness, solitude and isolation that she gathers over her years in Greenland. A lot of her book is about the early 20th century explorer Knud Rasmussen. There are a few stories of her experiences with the hardy souls living in Greenland. The three streams made me wonder whether one or two could have been left to another book.
Jan 27, 2011 rated it liked it
This is a quite descriptive and interesting book about living with local people during seven seasons visiting Greenland. Gretel fully participated in a life quite unfamiliar to most of the world; her descriptions are, um, excessively poetic--to the point of not adding to the description by being incomprehensible at times. Nonetheless, I very much enjoyed her details of living and traveling in Greenland, especially when she visited places I have also visited: Qaanaaq, Kangerlussuaq, Iqaluit, and ...more
Nov 07, 2014 rated it it was ok
Too bad a book that could have been so interesting was so disorganized and quickly became repetitive and tedious. I read about 200 pages and after a week decided the book would be much of the same and abandoned it.

Ehrlich is clearly a gifted with the ability of describing nature and loved Greenland and its peoples. People who are absolutely fascinating. They survive by eating anything that moves and not wasting a bit of those creatures. Their culture is based on what western civilization may re
This started out as a 5-star read, mostly for the culture shock, my main reason for reading travel books. It is so “other”, so alien to me and my life, that at first my head was responding “bravo!” to all her experiences and observations. But somewhere around half-way it became more of the same-old, same-old, many words with nothing new, novelty worn off.
I agree with other reviewers that this book needs serious editing, not only for the typos, but for the content. There was lack of continuity a
Michael Wing
Jul 12, 2011 rated it really liked it
This one took me about a week. The detail and information about the land that Knud Rasmussen traveled were incredible. If I were ever to go that far north, this book would go with me. Ehrlich is powerful because she ahs walked the walk, frozen, starved and smelled bad. The entire culture and customs are both beautiful and ugly, and the fatalism of the people would drive me nuts. Ehrlich's voice is true to the material, stating more than embellishing the setting and activity. The light and dark o ...more
'Obsessed' seems right. To the untrained eye, Greenland might be classified like a non-entity - a space rather than a place, and a forbiddingly cold and blank one at that. But Ehrlich's travelogue/ethnologue gives a taste of the appeal of the place, from her own lengthy stays there, and from the history of inhabitation and exploration of the far Arctic north. At times her style seems meditative, but at other times quite repetitive, and it is a slow if interesting read, infused with a great passi ...more
Feb 21, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Haunting, evocative, beautiful. I'm glad to have finally finished this and sorry that it's over. The prose and stream of consciousness style are both wonderful. ...more
Nov 25, 2020 rated it really liked it
I purchased this book at our library's used book sale. It had been withdrawn from the shelves, unread. Greenland is a land unknown, steeped in mystery. Traditionally, native people subsisted by hunting walrus, narwhal, seal, polar bear at great peril. Starvation was not unknown. Dogsleds often disappeared into open water bordered by ice that looked solid. The author of this book was drawn to Greenland by its harsh beauty and resilient people. She traveled by dogsled with a few of the Inuit peopl ...more
Dec 02, 2020 marked it as abandoned-without-finishing
Shelves: arctic
I really want to keep going with this, as her writing is lovely. But it’s too....soniferous?....for me right now. Perhaps another time.
Life in Greenland is a subject that most people know little about. After her first visit, author Gretel Ehrlich returned to Greenland several times, learning about Greenlandic culture, developing friendships, and experiencing both life in towns and extended time on the ice on dogsleds. Written in 2001, This Cold Heaven explores traditional life and how the challenges of modern times—from climate change to mechanization to toxic waste proposals from the US—impact citizens.

In addition to the auth
Jan 26, 2008 rated it really liked it
Recommended to Magda by: Elizabeth
I learned that treeline can be a factor of latitude, not just altitude—it is a biological boundary created by the cold—and came to think of the treeless polar north as a mountain lying on its side.

We flew up the sleeve of the 106-mile-long Kangerlussuaq Fjord. The water was black and the mountains were brown, ending in broken snow-covered peaks. Streams threaded through creases in three-billion-year-old rock, the result of roiling magma that cooled into gray, speckled gneiss whose surfaces were
Dominique Kyle
Life lived in community. Nothing private. She stops the sled to pee on the ice. Her period has started and the blood instantly freezes on the snow. The hunter with her looks round and laughs and says of the sled somewhere behind them - 'they'll think I'm a very skilled hunter, and I've killed a seal already!' This is a woman's book. She tells you things from a perspective you'll never get from those macho conquering men who are cutting off their own toes because of frostbite. The hallucinatory n ...more
Sep 28, 2012 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: Anyone who likes cultural history
Shelves: nonfiction
This book was the story of a Gretel Ehrlich's adventures in Greenland & the Northwest Passage across the top of Canada. Her descriptions were rich & kept me reading. She incorporates the stories of the Innuit people, Rassmussen, Kent & other explorers. There was a lot of insight into their culture; their beliefs, dealing with life's challenges, starvation, and the cold weather.

This Cold Heaven: Seven Seasons in Greenland
by Gretel Ehrlich
4.05 · rating details · 223 ratings · 38 reviews
For the la
Jan 31, 2012 rated it really liked it
I'm glad it was her, not me! This is a fascinating book, not because I particularly liked the writing style, but because the life was so foreign to me. Freezing cold, nothing to eat but raw seal. In fact, a local delicacy is auk stuffed in seal, left for two months, then eaten. Yum!! :-p The book had a bit too much of the "noble savage" feel in places, but it gives a really good glimpse into a way of life that is changing drastically after thousands of years. It's amazing that people can live th ...more
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On of the most interesting, layered works of nature writing I've ever read. By turns historical exploration, cultural anthropology, religious studies and old fashioned wondering in awe at the beauty of the earth, I found this book completely captivating. It's compelling - I promptly went out to find more to read about Greenland and it's people. I can also see why some people found it boring - Erlich enters you into a different world, quite unlike most people's every day. She's sharing a sparse, ...more
May 26, 2008 rated it it was amazing
I am overjoyed at having finally connected with this writer's work. Turning to just about any random page I can find a phrase or a sentence that makes me want to hug myself and do a rendition of Snoopy's happy dance. An early example: "The Arctic's continuously shifting planes of light and dark were like knives thrown in a drawer. They were the layered instruments that could carve life out of death into art and back to life."

It didn't seem to matter that I have never had any level of fascination
Feb 20, 2010 marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: library
The author uses such a poetic vernacular to describe an area about which most are "in-the-dark." It was difficult for me to follow her descriptions, as I currently lack any degree of comparison with the subject and found myself racking my brain to place her descriptions.

After a few pages, I began leafing through read scraps - a paragraph here and there - and that seemed to give me a better sense overall of her experience.

Though she did lead me to the journals of Knud Rasmussen, and I am hoping,
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Gretel Ehrlich is an American travel writer, novelist, essayist, and poet born on a horse ranch near Santa Barbara, California and educated at both Bennington College in Vermont and UCLA film school. After working in film for 10 years and following the death of a loved one, she began writing full-time in 1978 while living on a Wyoming ranch where she had been filming. Her first book, The Solace o ...more

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