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.”

CRIMSONWhen 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.

Categories: LGBTQ, Translated Literature

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

27 replies

  1. This book sounds like an absolute confrontation.

  2. Update: I did some digging around because this really sounds intriguing to me. The English version of this will be released in January 2019 as Last Night in Nuuk. Thought I’d toss that out there in case anyone else is interested.

  3. A friend of mine was the copy editor for this book. She warned me about the joylessness although, like you, she also thought it was an impressive piece of fiction. Perhaps best read when cheerful!

  4. What a beautifully written review! It sounds like a dark but compelling book x

  5. I have to confess this wouldn’t be my usual fare but it does sound like quality writing. Perhaps something to read at the height of summer rather than the depths of winter…

  6. Glum and gloomy is okay if you find something that resonates with you when you read this kind of novel. Not everything has to be uplifting.

    • I suppose, if I’m honest, it reminds me somewhat of my adolescent angst (believe it or not I can remember those days). I can cope with only so much gloom but I’m glad I read this book. I think it may well resonate with certain readers.

      • Well I like the song from 1968 (I have a bit of a thing about that year of extraordinary political hope), but I’m not sure I’d enjoy this book. I once saw a television programme about Greenland though and it occurs to me that it left the European Union in the 1980s. Perhaps the identity turbulence relates to economic and cultural isolation. In other words, it seems that Crimson may be on its way to the UK by next Halloween! Adolescent angst is more dramatic than middle-aged angst, and I’m always amazed by the stoicism of British youth under the Conservative coalition. Thanks for an interesting and illuminating review.

      • Thank you, John. We could certainly do with another 1968!

  7. Just the very facymt that it is set in Greenland makes me want to read it. It’s a country I know nothing about.

  8. Definitely intriguing, though not my usual fare. I’ll keep an eye on it!

  9. The thought of nihilistic young adults doesn’t fill me with joy, but this does sound very well-written and I don’t think I’ve read a Greenlandic author before, so I will look out for this one!


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