Tunu – Eastern Greenland turns its back on you!
I’ve just spent a couple of days in the company of Kim Leine’s Greenlanders as seen and narrated through his book Tunu. Let me just say from the get-go; I did not like it. In short, Tunu is about the inhabitants of a village in Eastern Greenland (Tunu is Eastern Greenland, and means back). At the start of the novel a young male nurse from Denmark has just arrived to the village, and so goes the merry-go-round of funsies and death.
When I borrowed it from the library I guess I was hoping that this novel would present a different experience, or point-of-view of Greenland than has been the case with so many accounts and narrations so often before. But it’s like hearing the same old, tired rantings about women and nature, and how the female sex is in a special symbiosis with nature, how the lunar cycle and my period are in sync, yadi-yadi-yah! Only here we have a whole nation destined to live out nature’s raw state of flux, leaving the people helpless and unable to function the way every other European does (because that’s what they are supposed to ultimately); in modern rational society. Not that they really mind this deficit as Leine narrates them. It’s such an easy solution to a “problem”. It seems to me that Leine really wanted to tell a story about a people who were still in contact with nature, but when I read it I just experienced drippings of sentimental Euro-centric Other-fascination, and deep down a resignation with the fact that these people were never going to be understood/explained, so just live with it. I didn’t feel like Leine went the distance himself and met his subjects halfway. Or maybe I’m just being a tad judgmental, after all, Leine did spend 15 years in Eastern Greenland, I went there for half a month!
If I can try to point to a specific point of irritation I would say that Leine is too busy getting every single person in the village down on paper, individualized in order to show the heterogeneous population, that he ends up painting a picture of a lump of people who are never really characters, but types. And these types stand for the different types of Greenland that the young male nurse experiences in Eastern Greenland. There are the drunken men, the strong, rough women who will boink every single man they meet, the uneducated ones who think that every sniffle can be cured with penicillin, the neglected children and the Dane. And it especially pisses me off that the old story about a man going crazy as a direct result of female callousness and inconsiderate behavior is being thrusted down my throat here. The Greenlandic women are so emotionally stumped, whereas the soft 30-something Danish Modernity Himself cannot help fall in love with each and every one – and to top it off let’s throw in the worthy-of-a-couch-and-Freud-psychoanalysis-theme that is; a 15 year old for him to fall in love with.
So just to sum it up: I think he could have done with half of this sorry cast and then really dug into the mud of it all. Because there is no law that says Greenland can’t be fascinating without one being stamped as a colonial twit Mr. Know-it-all. But somewhere along the line, it would be nice if one could be critical without the pointed moral finger that scolds the child (in this case; Greenlanders) and puts a Gordian knot around them, saying “you simply don’t understand what to do in a modern society” and “living in symbiotic state with nature must be soooo cool”.
I don’t know what I am supposed to do with this kind of thinking, it isn’t helpful to me. There are moments of Tunu that could be really good, but no scene or person seems to get the time to settle down, Leine is on a mission! And it is a shame, truly.