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Mathias Storch: Singnagtugaq (Singnagtugaq. A Greenlander’s Dream)

This is novel is the first written by a Greenlander in the Greenlandic language. The obvious comparison is with Mitiarjuk Nappaaluk‘s Sanaaq unikkausinnguaq (Sanaaq) and, indeed, there are similarities. As well as dealing with the day-to-day life of the local people, both are very much concerned with obtaining food, primarily by hunting but also by fishing and, in the case of this novel, from the local trading post when desperate, and both are concerned with the effect on the native culture of the colonists.

As with Sanaaq unikkausinnguaq (Sanaaq), this novel follows a small group as they struggle with life. We start off with class distinctions as there is a dispute between what are called the settlement boys, i.e. those from families who live in settlements and move around, and those based in the colony headquarters. These distinctions will continue.

Apart from the obvious one of obtaining food – we get various stories of various hunts – there are several plot lines. We follow the relationship between the Greenlanders and the Danes, with the Greenlanders feeling very much that they are treated badly by the Danes and never get what they want. There is also criticism of the education given to the Greenlanders. We see real poverty, as families become dependent on loans from the trading post when they cannot find enough seals, their staple diet, to hunt.

The hero, if there is one, is Pavia, one of the settlement boys. Like Storch, he will go on to become a priest but, as a boy, he is baffled by the disputes between the groups and by the relationship between the Danes and the Greenlanders. He is presumably based on Storch, as we follow his growing up but also his questioning attitude to what is happening in his world and why adults and Danes act the way they do.

Both Pavia and another boy face problems in their romantic relationships. The other boy, Silas, is in love with Sofie and she is in love with him. However, both sets of parents are determined that she should marry Joseph, Silas’ foster-brother, i.e. the biological son of Silas’ and Joseph’s parents. Both Silas and Sofie are determined that this will not happen but can do little to stop it as they have to obey their respective parents. The result is a disaster. Similarly, Pavia and Regine are in love but her parents have someone else in mind for her.

Disputes are inevitable and one dispute we follow throughout the book involves dogs, which were also key in Sanaaq unikkausinnguaq (Sanaaq). A man called Jørgen claimed that a dog belonging to Moses, Pavia’s father, had damaged his fishing tackle and demands compensation, When this is refused, he kills the dog. An examination of the stomach of the dog revealed that it had not eaten his float as he claimed but he still takes the dog’s skin as compensation. This dispute will drift on throughout the book, as Moses tries to get satisfaction.

The book does have one interesting twist. Pavia falls asleep and when he wakes up it is 2105. Of course, things have changed and he sees this and tries to work out what has happened and why. Of course, all is revealed.

The translation of this book is, frankly, sloppy. One character is given an incorrect name at one point, one character is variously named Josef and Joseph, sentences are left incomplete, solecisms such as between you and I and between he and Josef are used and the style is generally stilted and clumsy. We must, of course, be grateful for having the book in English translation and perhaps cannot expect the International Polar Institute Press to employ editors. Nevertheless, it is certainly interesting to read a book from Greenland and to compare it with an Inuit one.

Publishing history

First published 1914 by A. Rosenberg-ip nakiteriviane
First published in English in 2016 by the International Polar Institute Press