This books is not a historical novel, rather a fictional journalistic styled history. It reminded me of Beowulf without the poetic element. It is almost primitive in style, yet the characters do assume some life after many episodes begin to reveal personalities. Greenlanders is slow moving and develops slowly. It tends to drag and weary the reader, yet also tends to call the reader back to see what the outcome of this most difficult setting will afflict upon its settlers. If you are looking to read a story with well-developed characters, you will be disappointed. If you are wanting to discover more about this part of our world, you will learn, but it tends to go on and on and on... Am I sorry I read it? Not really. Would I recommend it to friends? Maybe 1 in 20. Would I have finished it if I had been busily engaged in life at the time. No.
I picked this up as a fan of Jane Smiley's modern novels (Horse Heaven, A Thousand Acres, Moo), and little expected what would be inside. This might be the book least aptly summed up by its cover blurb.
It's a long and dense book in which many characters tell pages-long stories of their own. That doesn't, however, mean that the pacing of the story is slow - deaths, births, hunger, and misfortunes are told of in single sentences. Throughout, the language is that of a different time. The way people speak seems oddly formal at first, but becomes familiar as the book goes on. The way they view the world, though, remains utterly different.
This is one of those rare historical novels that seems utterly true. The people, events, and turns of phrase stayed with me when I closed the book, and I am still thinking of how these families and this society worked. Perhaps in ways not too different from our own.