Book Review -Smilla’s Feeling for Snow by Peter Høeg (from Danmark – translated to English)

Were you aware that the Eskimos or Inuit people of Greenland have many different words to describe snow?  Just as English uses a variety of terms for water eg: (liquid, lake, river, brook, rain, etc), so Eskimo uses the aput ‘snow on the ground’, gana ‘falling snow’, piqsirpoq ‘drifting snow’, and qimuqsuq ‘a snow drift to name just a few. The intimate connection or “feeling” for the characteristics of the harsh arctic landscape is central to the story of crime, intrigue, and romance in “Miss Smilla’s feeling for Snow”.

 Like Greenland, the central character Miss Smillais cool, distant and reserved and gives off this feeling of loneliness. Growing up in the Arctic environment means that Smilla is a strong woman who struggles with trusting anyone, but who has also developed certain skills that enable her to solve a murder Police are convinced was as ‘accident’. A young boy falls from the roof of an apartment building in central Copenhagen. Did Isaiah jump or was he pushed? Secondary to the intriguing plot is the relationship between Danes and Greenlanders and it is an area that Høeg considers in this novel. The reasons for Smilla’s reserved nature slowly develop throughout the book by revealing pieces of her childhood in Greenland amidst the Inuits and the different social backgrounds from which each of her parents come.

“This novel is more of a feeling than anything else. Feeling of coldness, blinding whiteness and some fantastic warmness in between the two. It’s like a journey to far North where nothing but your senses remain. It’s as if you are sitting on Smilla’s coach wearing warm woollen socks and drinking hot cup of tea while contemplating the snowflakes whirling outside the window and feeling the intense cold of the winter.” (review)

Høeg’s novel was so surprisingly popular, it was made into a motion picture in 1997 starring Julia Ormond but unfortunately his subsequent novels aren’t in the same vein. Still the success of the ‘Smilla’ movie and novel is something we could ponder about. Hope you enjoy it.

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