Posted by: biblioglobal | June 21, 2015

Togo: An African in Greenland (Book-from-every-country #67)

432213I read An African in Greenland back in February when it seemed like an appropriately wintry book, so it is strange to be writing about it now in the summertime, though really, it is just as appropriate for summer solstice, since it also features unending summer days.

I took a break from this blog for a while while I was extra busy finishing up graduate school. I did continue with my book-from-every-country reading, though at a slower rate. I mixed in more other books from the U.S. and the U.K. So I’ve got a small backlog of books to write about now.

I wrestled for a while with whether to count An African in Greenland for Denmark or Togo. After all, when I’ve read travelogues where an American or a Brit goes somewhere else, I count it as the country they’ve traveled to, not as the US or UK. I’m counting it for Togo since books from Togo available in English are quite rare. But it is really a bit of a cheat.

Tete-Michel Kpomassie grew up in Togo where as a teenager he found a book about Greenland in a local store. He was so fascinated that he immediately decided to travel there, even though he had no money with which to do so. So he would work for a while, save up money and travel as far as his money would take him. Then he would work until he had enough money to go further. In this way (and also with some sponsors who were intrigued by his quest), he traveled from Togo to Ghana, Senegal, France, Denmark and eventually, Greenland.

One of the things I found most interesting about Kpomassie’s travels in Greenland is that he would always just show up in a new town, without any real plans, and start asking people if he could come stay in their house. And despite the Greenlanders in many cases having very little to spare, they almost always said yes. What amazes me is his expectation that he could just show up and expect to be taken in. I would certainly never have such an expectation! (I should mention, though I don’t remember the exact dates anymore, I think all of this was in the 1960s.)

All in all, a very interesting book for learning mostly about life in Greenland, with a little bit of Togolese culture and perspective thrown in. Kpomassie grew up in colonized Togo, which I thought gave him an interesting perspective on Greenland which was itself essentially a colony of Denmark.

An African in Greenland was translated from the French by James Kirkup. In addition to my book-from-every-country project, I also read it as part of Kinna Reads’ 2015 African Reading Challenge. My goal for the challenge is to read African books which were originally written in at least five different languages. (The first of these was Changes: A Love Story which was written in English.)




  1. This was truly a brave undertaking…all the way from Togo to Greenland!! Wow! and that too before the internet revolution made the world a smaller community!

    • Very brave! He also learned the languages as he went- English, Danish, Inuit…

  2. I read about this book on Ann Morgan’s blog which became a book, she read a book from every country and this one stood out as I believe someone contacted her about turning it inot a film. It sounded interesting and I like how you compare the cultural references in terms of our expectations regarding hospitality. It is something I am very conscious of living in Europe where visiting protocols are so different to where I grew up in New Zealand.

    I remember going on a 5 day hike around a lake in remote forest with my family, there were 7 of us, 2 adults and 5 children and we met a young Peruvian on the way who asked where he shop was (no shop anywhere and a 6 day walk to get out), so we fed him for the week and invited him home to our farm, he stayed for 2 months working on the farm much to our delight, until one evening when a girl called and then he was on his way again. πŸ™‚

    • Your comment about New Zealand made me laugh because my parents recently met a couple from New Zealand while traveling. After an hour’s conversation, the New Zealanders gave my parents their contact information and invited not only my parents but my parents’ friends and family also to come visit their farm in New Zealand! That’s a pretty amazing level of hospitality!

      • And it really is a genuine invitation! It contains within it something of a naive innocence of the world, but I love that places and people like that still exist. πŸ™‚

      • Makes me happy too! Coming from a more reserved culture though, I have a hard time sometimes believing that the hospitality is really meant.

  3. Wow, I know things were different in the 1960s but still, to travel around and then ask complete strangers if you could stay at their house? Sounds like a really interesting book though, and am I mistaken or is it published by NYRB? The cover has their “look” about it.

    • I think one thing he had going in his favor is that he brought novelty to places where novelty was relatively rare.

      Yes, that is an NYRB cover, although I didn’t actually read the NYRB edition.

  4. I read this book a few years ago and was also surprised by his just showing up and being welcomed. I think he also wrote a lot about how the Greenland women were hard to pin down, which I thought was a little funny – apparently, he rated his own charms higher than the women did πŸ˜‰

    • My impression was that the women did in fact rate his charms quite highly! His description of his sex life in Greenland was definitely an odd aspect of the book.

  5. I’ve never heard of this book! Thank you for the review and sharing the knowledge πŸ™‚

    • I’m glad I could introduce you to a new book!

  6. Wow this book sounds pretty interesting! I became sort of fascinated by Greenland after reading Frozen in Time. Honestly, before reading that I’d never given Greenland much thought at all–I didn’t even know was technically part of Denmark. Since Frozen In Time was mostly a survival story, it would be interesting to read a story where someone meets actual Greenlanders…

    Also congratulations on being done with gradaute school! I’m sure it’s a great feeling!! I hope you are enjoying some free time/new job/post doc!

    • Yes, it’s a fascinating book, especially if you’re not too squeamish about meat preparation/consumption! I was surprised at how little of the ‘survival’ side of things there was, in the sense that he hardly ever even complains about the cold.

      Thank-you! I’ll be starting a post-doc soon, but for now I’m enjoying a bit slower pace.

      • Congrats on the post-doc, but I hope your reprieve from all the insanity doesn’t end too soon!

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