Loved it Because: It was unlike anything I've ever read. This is the fantastical post-independence autobiographical tale of a young Togolese boy that leaves his 25 siblings on a whim (basically) and starts a 12-year journey from his native country to the chilly northern reaches of Greenland. I say 'basically' because it all started after he saw a book on Greenland in a missionary book store in his village.
This is also one of those books where you turn the last page and read through the final words and are left stammering 'but what next, what happened next when he returned to Togo?' Alas, it's difficult to find much on his life after this journey--at least it's hard to find much in English. So perhaps I will return to this post in the future when I have more time to slug through the french websites (we are smack dab in the middle of a PCS right now).
The book's strength comes from the author's candid and frank observations of the Inuit and Greenland culture, particularly when he compares it to his own upbringing in Togo. He approaches each new locale with an enthusiasm and curiosity that is incredible. This leads to situations that are at times hilarious and at other times quite disturbing. One example is a truly bizarre girlfriend swapping situation that he stumbles into and which he just can't handle. But it is because of his openness to assimilate into each village that he finds people sharing with him in ways no passing visitor would ever experience. This includes an in-depth look at the Inuit idea of souls in people, animals and things--particularly the process of hunting and harvesting whales.
At the book's conclusion it is Kpomassie true explorer spirit that draws him back to his homeland--having dived into so many incredible experiences, he feels a duty to return to his people to share what's he seen, tasted and felt. Lucky for the reader, he also decided to write it all down as well.
*One of my Reading Around the Continent books--the full list is here.
Radio Canada French Interview with Kpomassie
Interview with author 30 years after the book's publication
Introduction to novel online version
9 Togo authority hierarchy
22 on 'waiting' in Togo
37 food taboo's role in harmony or discord
50 power of paternal aunt's in Togo
53 Ghana sparks independence hopes in region 1959
57 6 year journey out of africa
58 post-independence visas popup where they weren't previously
63 independence of adventure
71 8 years after leaving Togo he finally leaves Copenhagen for Greenland
102 inverse authority structure in Greenland vs. Togo with children at top
110 Greenland version of morality with open relationships/sexuality
112 Greenland as a welfare state of Denmark
118 Equality in the Arctic
121-2 Greenlands's only prison and the prisoners are free during the day
125 Eskimos with ancient divide as either seal or fish-eaters
137-8 fishing for seawolves
140 Polar hysteria
161 1969 international eskimo airing of grievances
157 brutality of hiskies
174 on fanaticism and friendship
208 Eating raw seal
232 wife swampping as an eskimo survival mechanism
243 Greenlanders think falling is hilarious
275 Ridicule as sport in Greenland
276 Effects of family all sleeping together with children
280 burial rites, souls
282 More on souls
284 Eskimo conception of souls versus Togo conception
285-6 Whale hunting and the animal's many uses. Also includes discussion on 'soul capture' and draws comparison to lion hunting in Togo
289 Differng roles of sacrifice and unit between Greenland and Togo
293 Why he returns back to Togo--a sense of duty to his countrymen