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22Feb

Michel the Giant: An African in Greenland by Tété-Michel Kpomassie review – the call of the cold

A new translation of the writer’s 1960s journey from Togo to the Arctic is a window into a lost time

“I had started on a voyage of discovery, only to find that it was I who was being discovered,” writes Tété-Michel Kpomassie in this memoir of his time as “an African in Greenland”, first published in 1981 and now reissued by Penguin Modern Classics in a translation by James Kirkup.

His discovery begins, as many do, in a book. As a teenager in 1950s Togo, one of Africa’s smallest countries, he finds The Eskimos from Greenland to Alaska, stocked by accident in an evangelical bookshop. The world of “the little men of the north” seems exotic to a boy brought up in a country where a python was wound around his naked body to cure a head injury. “In that land of ice, at least, there would be no snakes!” He returns to the bookshop to buy a map of the world.

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