The good: Different forms of writing are used – texts and letters.
The not-so-good: Remember there is a glossary at the back – I suggest reading it first.
Why I chose it: Recommendation ages ago from My Cup and Chaucer.
Translator: Anna Halager (from the Danish), translated by the author from Greenlandic to Danish
Publisher: Virago (Hachette)
Setting: Primarily Nuuk, Greenland
Rating: 8.5 out of 10
Crimson by Niviaq Korneliussen is an intense, somewhat experimental read that pays dividends. It’s a slim book that punches above its weight when it comes to the complexity of emotion. Told from the point of view of five Greenlanders, it deals with topics such as family, alcoholism and drinking, relationships and sexuality. The book uses various formats, such as text messages and letters to tell the story from different viewpoints.
I can’t say I know much about Greenland other than where it is on the map and Crimson offers some insight. It’s a small place where you will eventually run into people you know whether you like it or not. There doesn’t appear a lot for these young adults to do at night except drink and party at various houses and clubs. They talk about leaving but only one of them does, finding life in other countries to be foreign and alienating. These themes are universal no matter where you live. Relationships and sexuality are another closely explored theme in the story. Fia is with a man, but is not enjoying the relationship. When she sees Sara, it’s love at first sight. But Sara’s in a relationship with another woman, Ivik. Ivik is struggling with identity – is she a woman? Why does Ivik not want to be touched? Sara too is struggling in the relationship, with effects on her mood. Meanwhile, Fia’s brother has left Greenland after a scandal involving a politician on social media. Denmark is not Greenland, which is great – but it’s not home either. Yet with distance between him and his country, he can see both the problems with Greenland and the secret he’s been hiding from himself. Arnaq is the one who brought about his exile, but she’s hiding her guilt and feelings through excessive drinking, which worries her that she will be like her parents.
Crimson is a powerful, concentrated read that communicates these themes in less than 200 pages. The writing style changes with each chapter/story, told from the point of view of another character. Sometimes it’s more difficult to understand than others. For me, Inuk’s story was difficult at first as I didn’t know who he was and why he was leaving the country. His communication was frenzied, throwing big ideas into every sentence. But as he calmed down, his prose became slower and more logical (plus he remembered to name his sister in his letters). Sometimes the prose seemed reflective of what the character was doing. During her story, Arnaq has the kind of weekend not many people can manage – repeated parties, drinking and staying up for prolonged periods. Her story becomes disjointed and disoriented as she plows through drunkenness, sleepiness, the hangover from hell and then up to do it all over again.
It’s a great talent to be able to communicate this through prose alone. I’ll be hoping that Niviaq Korneliussen’s next work is translated into English.