by Niviaq Korneliussen
“The island has run out of oxygen. The island is swollen. The island is rotten. The island has taken my beloved from me. The island is a Greenlander. It’s the fault of the Greenlander.”
When one thinks of Greenland the mental image is likely to be of a remote Arctic landscape shaped by glaciers, or perhaps one of a lonely Inuit hunter dressed in caribou skin clothing driving a dog sledge through icy winds. Indeed, this vast non-continental island with mountainous icebergs has the world’s sparsest population with only the occasional village of colourfully painted wooden cottages dotted along its west coast. There are, however, a handful of large urban areas, including Nuuk, the capital city, with its apartment blocks, industrial buildings and avant-garde architecture.
It is here author Niviaq Korneliussen has set her tale of love, lust, despondency and queer life. At weekends her wild, narcissistic young Greenlanders hook up with friends, meet lovers and indulge in one-night stands. They become drunk in downtown bars, get stoned at house parties, and generally desensitize themselves from overwhelming emotional issues – probably not so very different from young people the world over.
Its edgy characters include Fia who splits with her long-term boyfriend and becomes infatuated with Sara – although, the latter is really in love with Ivik who struggles with gender dysphoria. There’s Inuk, who almost loses his sanity questioning what it means to be a Greenlander and Arnaq, a manipulative, bisexual partygoer with a troubled past. We experience the same events, in turn, from each person’s perspective.
Crimson may sound amusing, but it isn’t. Quite the reverse. It is dispiriting and joyless, its protagonists resentful and discontented with their claustrophobic lives, but it is also a fearless work of modern literature. A sort of Greenlandic Trainspotting for the 21st century, but without the humour. The Guardian named it one of its top ten modern Nordic fiction books, and I can appreciate its reasons for doing so. While it may be self-absorbed, it is also original, inventive and touchingly courageous.
Korneliussen was born in Nuuk, South Greenland in 1990 and studied Psychology at Aarhus University in Denmark before spending a year in California as an exchange student. She started writing in 2013 and won many writing competitions in her homeland, where this novel was first published under the title of HOMO sapienne. She translated it herself from Greenlandic to Danish.
Many thanks to Virago for providing an advance review copy of this title.