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The Greenlanders
Jane Smiley
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The Greenlanders

3.87  ·  Rating details ·  1,945 Ratings  ·  295 Reviews
Smiley gives readers a magnificant novel of 14th century Greenland. Rich with fascinating detail about day-to-day life, The Greenlanders is also the compelling story of one family. Echoing the simple power of old Norse sagas, The Greenlanders brings a remote civilization to unforgettable life.
Published (first published March 12th 1988)
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May 25, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
You don't just read this book. You LIVE it. Who would have thought that the lives of Scandinavian settlers in medieval Greenland could be so fascinating. Life was so hard and brutal. Both the culture and the climate were totally unforgiving. But it's fascinating to see how our forebearers lived, and how much of stoic Scandinavian culture remains in families of that heritage today.

The author, Jane Smiley, is an author of stunning brilliance. She carries you to another time and place, such that yo
Dec 14, 2011 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Chrissie by: Maudie
I recommend this book to those of you seeking immersion into the world of medieval Greenland. The characters are the Nordic immigrants who settled in Greenland, the events taking place in the 1300s, centuries after Viking exploration. These people must cope with cold and a native population that is so strange that these creatures are seen as demons. These people, the indigenous Inuits, are called skraelings. It is a world of hunger and hard times, adultery and murder, illness and death and lawle ...more
Aug 18, 2007 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
What makes this book unique is also what makes it unapproachable: Namely, it was written in the style of a Scandinavian epic, which is a departure from the narrative graces we're used to. At first, this causes it to seem anecdotal and choppy, and I had a hard time getting into it. After I became immersed in the characters and their lives, however, it quickly gathered momentum and drew me in. Though it follows a large cast of characters, I did not find myself yearning for more attention to some a ...more
Apr 05, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Note: this is a personal and somewhat rambling review.

The Greenlanders was one of the great reading experiences of my adult life, and I have to confess that "great" reading experiences have become few and far between the older and more jaded I get. I had heard of the book for several years prior, and I knew that at some point, the time would ripe. I find that certain books reward a structured, self conscious approach to being read, The Greenlanders being a case in point. I am not sure why, it ce
Apr 03, 2007 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Historical Fiction Fans
This books begins with a strong premise, and interesting humanity-versus-nature story chronicling the decline of a settlement in Greenland, circa fifteenth-sixteenth century.

It would seem that whomever is responsible for editing this book needs to review basic paragraph structure and narrative flow. Jane Smiley patches snippets of dialogue and multi-year story events together between characters that may only appear once or twice.

The character relationships are especially murky, due to the Norweg
Jan 19, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: historish, literary, c20th
History has been something of a passion for me since I was very young and first read about the tombs of the Egyptian Pharaohs, the ancient temples and cities of the Aztec and the Khmer buried under jungle vines, and the crumbled ziggurats of Sumer. As I grew up I fell deep into the larger stories and overarching, serpentine narrative we call history, but always I was most attracted to the doomed and lost civilizations, the dwindling and disappearance of Norse Greenland being among them.

Feb 10, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction-lit
I really don't even remember when I read this book... that said, it was one of the most beautiful books I've read. Jane Smiley is an expert in Icelandic literature and sagas, which I know she once taught at University of Iowa (she may still). She chooses to use the prose style of these epic sagas to write her own saga of 14th c Vikings attempting to colonize Greenland. This makes it a bit difficult to get into right at first, but just like with any writing style, you quickly adjust. Just give it ...more
Oct 09, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: to-2011
Although I struggled to stick with this book in the first 100+ pages, but I had read really good reviews on it so I stuck with it. Soon I was hooked and I am glad I did. The most interesting aspect of this story was the influence the Greenland's relative isolation had on their morals and religious beliefs. The oral preservation of laws that tried to maintain their original ties to other norther countries maintained some continuity until lawspeaker Bjorn failed to pass them on and even failed. As ...more
Elizabeth Urello
May 13, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: novels
I loved this book so much! As with all books I really love, I can't say exactly why it was so absorbing. A lot happens, but not in a page-turning way, it's not funny at all, and while you do come to know and care about the characters, they are held at a certain remove from the reader. But it's nearly 600 pages of awesomeness about a lost society I'd never had any interest in before, and I loved every word of it. It's about endurance and survival in a hostile landscape, in which human emotions - ...more
This is very different from the other Jane Smiley books I've read. I'm knocked out that she can write in such different styles, and I loved this book.

Norse people settled on Greenland for about four hundred years, until the Little Ice Age made it impossible for them to survive there in about 1400. I was surprised when, about a hundred pages in, I found myself getting completely absorbed in this book and its world. It's told in what can seem like a kind of flat style, maybe like Saga stories from
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Jane Smiley is a Pulitzer Prize-winning American novelist.

Born in Los Angeles, California, Smiley grew up in Webster Groves, Missouri, a suburb of St. Louis, and graduated from John Burroughs School. She obtained a A.B. at Vassar College, then earned a M.F.A. and Ph.D. from the University of Iowa. While working towards her doctorate, she also spent a year studying in Iceland as a Fulbright Scholar
More about Jane Smiley...
“My mind is like a room where the door swings free in the breeze, and many visitors come and go and stay and vanish as they will.” 2 likes
“Some folk learned the nature of God, that He was merciful, having spared a husband or some cattle, that He was strict, having meted out hard punishment for small sins, that He was attentive, having sent signs of the hunger beforehand, that He was just, having sent the hunger in the first place, or having sent the whales and the teeming reindeer in the end. Some folk learned that He was to be found in the world-in the richness of the grass and the pearly beauty of the Heavens, and others learned that He could not be found in the world, for the world is always wanting, and God is completion.” 1 likes
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