Kim Leine is a Danish-Norwegian novelist. He received the Golden Laurel award and the Nordic Council’s Literature Prize for this, his fourth novel, The Prophets of Eternal Fjord.
If you enjoy historical novels, mixed with a bit of fantasy, with dark forces aplenty, the epic storyline in Prophets of the Eternal Fjord will certainly appeal to you.
The opening chapter sets the scene for the novel, with missionary Morten Falck pushing a woman off a cliff in Greenland in 1793, with her willing participation.We gradually unravel the whys and wherefores of this drastic action over the following 500-odd pages of the novel.
Newly-ordained priest Morten Falck sails to Greenland in 1787 to convert the Inuit to the Danish church. The Sukkertoppen colony, is a harsh environment, is a far cry from the parish he envisaged while studying in Copenhagen. During his study, Falck was absorbed by the ideology of Rousseau – particularly the sentence ‘Man is born free and everywhere he is in chains,’ which dominates his thinking during his dark moments.
The missionary becomes involved with those in his care: his ambitious catechist, a lonely trader’s wife, and a widow he comes to love; but his faith and reputation are dangerously called into question. A number of native people reject the Danish colonial settlements and establish their own community, Eternal Fjord, living without Danish rules. Falck lives with them for some time, creating a number of challenges for him.
The book is divided into three parts, with the second part called ‘Colony and Catechism,’ with The Ten Commandments as chapter headings. However, sins replicating the exact opposite of the commandments occur: among them a rape on a Sunday, a nasty abortion and a theft leading to a fire.
The novel travels back and forth in the years between 1782 and the early 19th century, as well as between various locations in Denmark and Greenland.
It took me a while to sort out the characters and time frames in this book, but it was a great read and will be enjoyed by anyone who enjoys a historical novel. The author does note some events included in the novel are pure fantasy and did not necessarily occur, but the more significant cultural occurrences, such as the great fire in Copenhagen, were as accurate as possible.
Leine uses wonderful descriptive language throughout the book, for example: ‘The fog still lingers in the bays and where the sun has yet to reach. It is as though the rocks are shrouded in gauze and tulle. It makes him think of death.’
The book has been translated from Danish by Martin Aitken.
Reviewed by Lesley McIntosh
The Prophet of Eternal Fjord
by Kim Leine
Published by Atlantic Books