Niviaq Korneliussen: Homo sapienne (UK: Crimson; US: Last Night in Nuuk)
Sex and drugs and rock’n’roll are not things we immediately associate with Greenland but, after this book, the impression many of us have of Greenland is likely to change. The book follows the story of five young people in Nuuk, three young woman, a young woman who would rather be a young man and a young man.
We start with Fia (a woman). She is in the process of breaking up with her partner, Peter. She wants her freedom and, frankly, is bored with Peter, a man she considers worthy but whom she does not love and with whom she is not happy. Peter is not happy with her decision. She moves in with Arnaq (a woman), who is a friend of her brother, Inuk. The two women go to a party where they meet Sara. Fia is immediately struck by Sara’s beauty (If God’s a woman, then she’s more beautiful than God). Indeed, against her better judgement, she finds herself falling for Sara. We know, though she does not, that Arnaq is also attracted to Sara, who is living with Ivinnguaq/Ivik.
Fia is so horrified at her Lesbian feelings that she immediately finds a (less than attractive) man whom she nicknames Pig-With-A-Nose-Like-A-Prick and has sex with him. His nose is not the only part of his anatomy she mocks. She is also disgusted with herself for having sex with him. When Arnaq returns to the flat, Arnaq is aware of Fia’s interest in Sara and seduces Fia. We see this story both from Fia’s point of view and then from Arnaq’s.
While partner-changing and bisexuality is going on, we also follow Ivinnguaq/Ivik who has been questioned by friends and families as to why she does not have a boyfriend but prefers to hang out with boys. She eventually questions her gender identity.
Arnaq, meanwhile, as well as visiting her sister, after giving birth, also confesses all to her sister though admits to having had a boyfriend as well as Lesbian affairs. Arnaq worries about herself and feels that she has the Devil inside her: Burning and glowing, Lucifer emerges as a gas from far inside my guts. As he spreads out into the air, I almost die. Fuck. Lucifer is trying to suffocate me.
Meanwhile, Inuk, who has been somewhat holier-than-thou towards his sister and also somewhat anti-gay, may have been having an affair with the local (male) M.P.
Yes, it is all about growing up and young people struggling with their demons, with their sexuality, with their relationships, with their gender identity, with their alcohol dependency and with life in general. And yes, Greenland young people seem to have many of the same problems as young people have elsewhere in the world. Having said that, had this book been written by a British or US writer, I very much doubt if I would have read it. I did think it was interesting to read, to learn that Nuuk – population 16,786 when this book was written – is as much a party town as New York or Newcastle and that young Greenland people seem to spend their time, when not studying or working, partying, having sex and drinking (heavily). Doubtless this book will do well – it has already been translated into several languages – and well done to Korneliussen for showing us a side of Greenland of which we were almost all probably ignorant but it is not great literature.
First published 2014 by Milik
First published in English in 2018 by Virago
Translated by Anna Halager