Events hap­pen at break­neck speed for four young queer peo­ple liv­ing and lov­ing in Green­land’s cap­i­tal

The Guardian - Review - - Fiction - Han­nah Jane Parkin­son

One has to un­der­stand Green­land to un­der­stand the ex­cite­ment that greeted Niviaq Kor­neliussen’s debut when it was pub­lished there in 2014 as Homo Sapi­enne.

Crim­son, which came out of Kor­neliussen’s suc­cess in a short story com­pe­ti­tion, tells the tale of four queer char­ac­ters liv­ing in Nuuk, Green­land’s cap­i­tal. Though their ages are not spec­i­fied, it’s a safe bet to as­sume they are in their 20s. Nuuk’s pop­u­la­tion is nearly 18,000; Green­land’s, 56,000. The novel, a slim 200 pages, is told from dif­fer­ent points of view: Fia, who has bro­ken up with her long-term boyfriend; Inuk, Fia’s brother and best friend of Ar­naq; Sara, whom Fia falls in love with; and Ivik, Sara’s girl­friend.

Kor­neliussen’s ex­plo­ration of LGBT life­styles has jolted Green­land’s small lit­er­ary scene. In a re­cent pro­file of her for 1843 magazine, the in­ter­viewer vis­ited a Green­landic book­shop and found a sin­gle wall of na­tive lit­er­a­ture. Most books are Dan­ish im­ports, with Nordic noir par­tic­u­larly pop­u­lar. Kor­neliussen’s de­ci­sion to write in Green­landic, then, was met with in­trigue and cel­e­bra­tion. She has also trans­lated the book into Dan­ish – a ver­sion that has been ac­claimed (and on which this English ver­sion is based). Would such praise have been the out­come were it not for her age (28), the scarcity of Green­landic fic­tion, and Crim­son’s fresh sub­ject mat­ter?

The novel starts promis­ingly. Kor­neliussen is very good at cap­tur­ing the frac­tur­ing of a re­la­tion­ship: the in­ter­nal rage – of­ten un­fair – one feels to­wards a part­ner when love has died. Peter, Fia’s boyfriend, can do noth­ing right: Fia now shrinks from his touch. She by Niviaq Kor­neliussen, trans­lated by Anna Halager, Vi­rago, £12.99 finds his pe­nis dis­gust­ing (a “sticky pig’s tail”); wants to punch him when he calls her “iggu”, an af­fec­tion­ate term sim­i­lar to sweetie. Fia breaks up with Peter, but by the end of her chap­ter has fallen in love with Sara, with all the un­der­state­ment of an avalanche.

Within 30 sec­onds of meet­ing Sara, Fia de­scribes her as the most beau­ti­ful woman she has ever seen – “From Green­land to Africa, from Africa to the moon, from the moon to Venus, from Venus to the sun, from the sun to in­fin­ity, and from in­fin­ity back to here.” This is with no pre­vi­ous in­ti­ma­tion of Fia’s same-sex ori­en­ta­tion, and all in the space of a fag break.

The rest of the book is sim­i­lar in its clum­si­ness. Huge life changes hap­pen in the course of a para­graph. Fia’s brother Inuk goes from writ­ing: “Fuck­ing Queers Are Sick! Fuck­ing Queers Are Sub­hu­man! Fuck­ing Queers Must Die!”, to stat­ing, a few pages later: “I am into men.” In­ter­nal ho­mo­pho­bia is a very dam­ag­ing thing: it’s not usu­ally re­solved within a cou­ple of thou­sand words. (Inuk also seems to have ended up in a prison in Den­mark, from which he some­how ca­su­ally es­capes.) If this wasn’t enough, it tran­spires that he has been hav­ing an un­re­al­is­tic affair with a high-pro­file pub­lic fig­ure. Big shifts in the char­ac­ters’ out­looks or per­son­al­i­ties are sus­pected all along by the oth­ers. Of course you are trans! I knew! Of course you are gay! There is a per­sonal deus ex machina in each chap­ter, or a rev­e­la­tion that is dealt with in a sin­gle sen­tence and never men­tioned again – even when that rev­e­la­tion is child sex­ual abuse.

There are nice turns of phrase. A char­ac­ter’s hair is “still par­ty­ing” when she looks in the mir­ror the morn­ing af­ter a night out. And Kor­neliussen’s de­scrip­tive pas­sages can be lyri­cal. “The warm sun,” she writes, “awak­ens the birds, who have slept through the cold night, and they be­gin to sing.”

The strong­est chap­ter is that of Ivik, Sara’s girl­friend, who nar­rates her in­ter­nal strug­gles with nu­ance and humour. Un­for­tu­nately, this chap­ter pre­cedes the fi­nal ex­cru­ci­at­ing one, in which Kor­neliussen ends each sec­tion with a hash­tagged word. These make no sense. It’s as if Kor­neliussen, a mil­len­nial, has never used a hash­tag. A taxi ride ends with “#thetaxidriverandi”, which even your mum wouldn’t write.

The book’s ex­am­i­na­tion of Green­landic iden­tity is in­ter­est­ing: how a peo­ple cope with claus­tro­pho­bia, and Green­land’s past as a Dan­ish colony (it only be­came self-gov­ern­ing in 2009 af­ter a ref­er­en­dum). Dan­ish peo­ple, on the whole, look down on Green­lan­ders and one char­ac­ter in par­tic­u­lar strug­gles with his coun­try’s post­colo­nial tran­si­tion and his place in it. (“I hate that Green­lan­ders are so an­gry! Anger is sim­mer­ing on that is­land!”) Crim­son would be bet­ter off tar­geted at young adults: teens need lit­er­a­ture that re­flects their rites of pas­sage, es­pe­cially those of mi­nori­ties.

Crim­son’s

set­ting

To buy Crim­son for £11.17 go to guardian­book­shop.com.

Crim­son

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