Friday, 24 July 2015

Book Review: Anatomy of a Night by Anna Kim
Greenland is the biggest island of our planet and of utmost importance for world climate due to her thick though alarmingly thinning inland ice. However, being a remote and sparsely populated place, the island, that – just in so far as Europe is concerned – was discovered and colonised by the Vikings in the tenth century, is seldom heard of except in the context of global warming. Also in literature Greenland and her indigenous people have never been particularly present although there are some novels, notably historical ones, set in this rather inhospitable region. A recent book about eleven desperate and lonesome people in Eastern Greenland of today is Anatomy of a Night by the promising young Austrian writer Anna Kim. During the course of only one night in August each one late summer night gives in to the life-long desire to put an end to their suffering once and for all.

Anna Kim was born in Daejeon, South Korea, in September 1977, but has been living in Europe since 1978, first in the Federal Republic of Germany and as from 1983 in Vienna, Austria. She studied Philosophy and Theatre Studies at the University of Vienna and made her debut as an author in 1999 publishing short stories and essays in different German-language literary journals. Her first novel titled Bildspur (The Trace of Pictures) appeared in 2004. It was followed by the novel Frozen Time (Die gefrorene Zeit: 2008) which won the European Union Prize for Literature 2012, the literary report Die Invasion des Privaten (2011; Invasion of the Private), and Anatomy of a Night (Anatomie einer Nacht: 2012). Anna Kim lives in Vienna, Austria.

On Friday, 31 August, 10 p.m., pitch-black darkness begins to lay bare the Anatomy of a Night in Amarâq in Eastern Greenland where poverty keeps people in its firm grip. Even nature adds to the depressing atmosphere of the – fictitious – small town because roads lead nowhere petering out in its bare environs at the end of the world where sky as well as sea seem to melt with the ground. The Danish government built the settlement during a long past and almost forgotten famine to provide the Inuit, who were no longer able to support themselves hunting, more easily with everything they needed and also to give them “civilisation” in the arrogant European sense. As a result many Inuit have lost their roots and feel constantly out of place wherever they are, be it in Greenland or in Denmark. In addition, a small and remote spot at the back of beyond usually doesn’t offer much opportunity to make a decent living, even less to people equipped with surviving skills that are of no use in a town or with just basic education. It’s no surprise that unemployment has been widespread among the indigenous population from the very beginning – and so has been alcoholism. Not even removing neglected or abused children from their families and putting them into foster homes in Denmark can relieve the burden passed on from one generation to the next like a hereditary disease. During this night at the end of summer eleven people make the balance of their lives and come to the conclusion that they have nothing to hope for and nobody to lean on. Grief, desperation and loneliness strike them with full power. No matter if young or old, female or male, Inuit or European, in the end all eleven see only one way out like so many whom they knew before them.

An uninvolved third-person narrator traces the Anatomy of a Night, i.e. the often insignificant events of the night from 31 August to 1 September between 10 p.m. and 3 a.m. which lead to eleven suicides in the small community of fictitious Amarâq. The focus of the novel clearly is on human soul and all the small or big wounds that it inevitably suffers from the day we are born on to the end. On the individual level it shows how a – any – person can get so awfully tired of life that she or he actually puts an end to it on her or his own accord, but there’s also the level of society on the whole. Reading this book we should keep in mind that although many societies brand suicide as a sin or at least as morally wrong, it is an accepted option in others like the Inuit one as it seems. All characters in this novel are shown as people in flesh and blood who have in common that they feel alone, uprooted and unconnected in a world that passes them by. The author skilfully uses the hostile nature of Greenland to mirror the cold, the gloom and the loneliness that her eleven suicides have in their hearts. And just as skilfully she weaves in information about Greenland’s colonial history and the humiliation that her indigenous people had and probably have to put up with from their Danish rulers. The language used to deal with the serious topic is precise, powerful and rich in images which made it a great pleasure to read.

Admittedly, Anatomy of a Night by Anna Kim is no light and entertaining read, but as my regular readers will know this isn’t what I’m looking for in books. Much rather it’s a psychologically deep and well researched (the author was on the spot with a literature grant) piece of Austrian literature that deserves being known outside the German-speaking world. Besides, it can’t do any harm to know more about Greenland, her people and her history, can it? As far as I can see, the English edition of the novel is available only as ebook, but maybe it is just a question of time that a print edition is brought out although with the exception of some foreign bestsellers the English-language book market seems to be shamefully averse to translations. But hope never dies! At any rate, I recommend this work of a young Austrian author with South Korean roots for reading.

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This review is another contribution to Valentina's
2015 Women Challenge # 3 on Peek-a-booK!

To know more about this challenge and my reviews for it
»»» please read my sign-up post.

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