One of the books that was nominated for the Dublin International Prize and a few years ago had won the Norwegian Council's literary prize, which meant that there were several prerequisites to seek and travel with it to the cold northern seas. The latter I do not say it because of some poetic mood, I say it because the element that won me is the author's ability to travel me to the north, to the icy landscapes of Greenland to make me feel like I'm experiencing this wild environment and seeing the ubiquitous frozen sea.
The beginning of course is somewhat milder as we move to Copenhagen in the late 18th century. There we meet a strange student of theology who enters the relative school somewhat reluctantly to satisfy his religious father without having a particular religious call since his interests are different. In a rather big introduction of our history, we follow his course from the university to the infamous streets and from its encounters with the modest girls to those with the immodest prostitutes. In other words, we know him well enough and we know even more how he is formed internally in the contrast between the strongly-belligerent Danish society and the many temptations that he has no particular willingness to refute. In the end, if this central hero is likeable or not is a question that the answer is in everyone's judgment, the only sure thing is that it is a complicated character that is in a permanent internal conflict and this is apparent in the decisions which then gets. After a long time a combination of a need for atonement from juvenile sins and an even greater need to do something that is truly worthwhile he is abandoning moral and practical obligations to embark on a trip to Greenland where it will take on the role of the priest, with the task of proselytism of indigenous people. And somewhere there we get to the best part of the book.
In this second part, there are 10 chapters inspired by the 10 commandments that show us in a very vivid way the life in this wild and inhospitable area through the look of different characters, from the Danes who are in control of the situation to the indigenous and mixed people who, from the position of the second-class citizen, are trying to find their place in this new world that is being created. Through these chapters, life is being unraveling in this colony, with the difficulties imposed by the natural landscape, the racial relations, the legal and illegal passions that the inhabitants resort to, and of course the strict religion that greatly determines life, at least on the surface. Interestingly, it's not a story where the Author denounces the violence of colonialism, racism, and all the other evils that have emerged. Of course there are in it to some extent, but the most basic is the depiction of the complex relationship between colonists and indigenous people, with the former wanting to build a copy of their own society, and the latter to be attracted to this way of life but to want at the same time to adapt it to their own needs, which of course is unacceptable to the Danes. Especially in the subject of religion, which is a major part of this book, the prophets of our story essentially create a different Christianity, milder, more tolerant to the passions of the people, and above all joyful, precisely the opposite of the very strict Nordic Protestantism, so questions are emerging about the true nature of Christianity and its deepest essence. Expectingly these two concepts are confronted with a result that is also creating a division between colonists who do not see the violent repression with good eyes, and the toughest, that ignites many of the hidden passions and creates great tensions.
All this involves our hero, the priest, who disagrees with violence by invoking the Christian values, but at the same time makes some decisions that can certainly not be considered compatible with his religion. The result is to make many enemies and to come into conflict with powerful people, even with the royal power itself, which reveals through its actions all the rationale behind the idea of "civilizing" the natives of Greenland, showing us how the Europeans generally perceived all those people who wanted to subdue with the excuse of their cultural improvement and the salvation of their soul. Even here, however, the author refuses to give a disgraceful tone and, in general, throughout the book he does not attempt to show that there was a kind of paradise of indigenous people that the Europeans destroyed him. Of course there is a record of this fact, but the native culture does not appear as angelic as we see its ugly side, but there is no accusation for it as it is emphasized that the very difficult survival in these climatic conditions implies more cruelty. Throughout this, our priest knows the natives better and revisits many of his perceptions.
All this in a book that does not immediately win the reader, which is difficult and heavy and certainly not pleasant. A book, that is like the wild and difficult environment that dominates most of it, creating a sense of emptiness that brings a weight to the soul and causes a lasting existential anxiety. As you progress, however, all of these elements are ultimately making the book more and more appealing, and in the end you find that it has caused so many thoughts that can make you write a very long review. There are, of course, weaknesses, the epilogue is not the best, some parts seemed a bit big, some a little tedious without offering anything more in our story, and there are several ambiguities. This has made me sometimes not to enjoy reading but after the end of reading, seeing the whole picture I understand that the time I spent in this book was not lost.