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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction



Mathias Storch

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To purchase Singnagtugaq

Title: Singnagtugaq
Author: Mathias Storch
Genre: Novel
Written: 1914 (Eng. 2016)
Length: 120 pages
Original in: Greenlandic
Availability: Singnagtugaq - US
Singnagtugaq - UK
Singnagtugaq - Canada
Le rêve d'un Groenlandais - France
  • A Greenlander's Dream
  • Greenlandic (Kalaallisut) title: Singnagtugaк
  • This translation apparently based on the 1915 Danish translation, by Knud Rasmussen, En grønlænders drøm
  • Translated by Torben Hutchings
  • With an Introduction by Knud Rasmussen

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Our Assessment:

B : fairly basic, but of more than merely historic interest

See our review for fuller assessment.

The complete review's Review:

       Singnagtugaq is considered the first novel written in Greenlandic, published in 1914 and then, in Danish translation, in 1915. (It appears -- though unfortunately it is not made clear -- that this edition is a translation from the Danish translation; it does include the Introduction to the 1915 Danish edition.)
       The novel describes Greenlandic life under the Danish colonizers -- and in surprisingly many regards is similar to colonial fiction from all corners of the globe. The focus is on the younger generation -- the children and youths -- and so even when it pits Danish colonialists and native settlement inhabitants in the opening scene, it is a conflict between the Danish colony kids and the native ones from the settlement. Among the settlement children is Pavia -- who; "had a troubled mind and could sometimes be disobedient" --; he is the central figure in the novel.
       The first chapter has Pavia and his family and others from the settlement visiting Augpilagtoq, the local colonial center. Pavia is impressed, but can't enjoy himself: he doesn't understand why the colonialists enjoy such a higher standard of living:

He walked around thinking of all that he had seen at the colony. Why are the houses here better and prettier ? How do they pay for all the trees, which they build them from ? Why can't we have things so fine and good at our place ?
       The local priest believes that with a proper education the local Greenlanders would be able to: "take full advantage of the opportunities that their country offered them" -- and sees that Pavia shows great promise ("he answered far more maturely than the colony children") -- but even he isn't in a position to effect much change. It is Pavia who is identified as a figure who will be able to help lead the Greenlanders to a better life -- which begins with him immediately taking the opportunity offered him when the priest arranges that he can attend the seminary in Godthåb (Nuuk, the capital of Greenland) -- "in spite of the fact that his mother wanted him to be a hunter, and had asked him not to".
       There are a variety of scenes-of-local-life in the novel, from the concern when Pavia's father doesn't return one day from a hunting expedition to the longer-term difficulties faced by the locals when the seasons don't play out right and they can't catch enough food, to a variety of neighborly and domestic disputes. There is a dispute about a dog -- a question of justice, too about which the locals wonder whether it should be addressed at the larger assembly meeting in Augpilagtoq. There is also a (tragic) love story, where local girl Sofie and Silas are in love, but the parents arrange for Sofie to marry Josef, yet another variation on following established principles (duty to parents) that has tragic results on the individual, human level.
       The novel concludes with a chapter in which Pavia has a dream in which he finds himself in the year 2105 -- where Greenlanders are now in charge and doing well in a much more advanced society. Someone he talks to tells him of a Pavia, who: "is among the people to whom we owe the most when we discuss who has done the greatest towards our progress". Pavia awakes at his desk in old Godthåb, but of course the dream was meant to be inspirational, to push him to help lead the way to a brighter tomorrow.
       As fiction Singnagtugaq is fairly rough and basic, with relatively little exposition and some abrupt transitions. Storch tries to pack quite a bit in, and his didactic intentions show through a bit too clearly at times. The small, local issues -- such as the workings of the assembly, or the financial support for the communities and families provided by the authorities -- are also somewhat difficult to convey in such limited space -- yet Storch does give a good overall impression of many aspects of life and society in colonial Greenland.
       Singnagtugaq offers interesting glimpses of a (geographically and culturally) unusual and different colonial experience -- even as it doesn't entirely convey the harsh conditions, isolation, and the small, widely dispersed population of the area. (Even now, a century later, Augpilagtoq (now Aappilattoq) has a population of barely over a hundred, and the Greenlandic capital, Nuuk, less than 17,000.) The stories -- the everyday ones, as well as ones such as of curious, ambitious Pavia, as well as that of heartbroken Silas and his fate -- do, however, certainly make for a small novel that is of more than merely cultural-historical interest.

- M.A.Orthofer, 17 April 2016

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Singnagtugaq: Reviews: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Greenlandic priest and author Mathias Storch lived 1883 to 1957.

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