Thursday, January 14, 2016

Book Review: Miss Smilla's Feeling for Snow

(Reclaimed from Blogjob. Tags: disadvantaged ethnic minoritiesGreenlanders living in Denmarkmurder mysteries with strong heroinesnovels made into moviesnovels with sex and violenceSmilla’s Sense of Snow.)

A Fair Trade Book
Title: Miss Smilla's Feeling for Snow (Froken Smillas Fornemmelse for Sne)
Author: Peter Hoeg
Translator: Felicity David
Date: 1992 (Danish), 1993 (U.K. translation)
Publisher: Rosinante/Munksgaard (1992), Harvill / Farrar Straus & Giroux (1993)
ISBN: 0-00-654783-4 (Harvill 1993)
Quote: "At that moment I am clear about nothing, only confused. So confused that I could share it out. So I don't budge. 'Strange way to play, don't you think?'"
Smilla Jaspersen is a Greenlander, one of the generally shorter, darker, less privileged minority in Copenhagen. So is Isaiah, a neighbor's child who reportedly jumped off a high roof into snow ("No one was chasing him," since there's only one line of footprints) and died in the fall. Smilla's feeling for snow, and for Isaiah, tells her that someone must have been chasing him to the roof even if that person didn't follow him out into the snow. And Smilla, being no ordinary middle-aged lady (the jacket of my copy calls her "resourceful, tenacious, and bloody-minded"), sets out to find out who that person was.
Hoeg appears to have had two purposes in writing his story. One was to spin a long, lively, sexy and violent but not obscene adventure yarn, and one was to inform readers about the lives of working-class ethnic-minority people in Denmark. We see a great deal of the kind of subtle, genteel, more elitist than racist bigotry that urban Americans see in their cities. It has affected Smilla in something close to the way it's affected several well-known members of ethnic minorities in the English-speaking countries.
If you like novels with the kind of strong heroines who can fall in love with men, and get over being "in love" with those men upon finding them unworthy, and fight for justice as ruthlessly as any number of men, you'll like Smilla. And, some reviewers commented, if you like stories about ships and seafaring, you may like Miss Smilla's Feeling for Snow for that reason; her adventure culminates on board a ship.
A U.S. translation by Tina Nunnally, Smilla's Sense of Snow, was used to make the movie version. Not having read that book, watched the movie, or read the original, I can't say whether one translation is preferable to the other. I can say, having read this version of the book, that it should make a great adventure movie. (Update: Blogjob readers who had watched the movie agreed that it did.)
Although the edition I have is somewhat rare and commands collector prices on Amazon, I'll waive that point while offering this as a Fair Trade Book; a different edition of this translation is selling cheap. Buy it here, for $5 per copy + $5 per package + $1 per online payment, and I'll do my best to send $1 to Hoeg or a charity of his choice (although he's reported to be a privacy fanatic and I don't know that he even reads English).