I am currently reading my way through a long list of science fiction and fantasy titles. (http://www.npr.org/2011/08/07/138938145/science-fiction-and-fantasy-finalists if you are interested in the list).
She thinks more highly of snow and ice than she does of love. She lives in a world of numbers, science and memories--a dark, exotic stranger in a strange land. And now Smilla Jaspersen is convinced she has uncovered a shattering crime...
It happened in the Copenhagen snow. A six-year-old boy, a Greenlander like Smilla, fell to his death from the top of his apartment building. While the boy's body is still warm, the police pronounce his death an accident. But Smilla knows her young neighbor didn't fall from the roof on his own. Soon she is following a path of clues as clear to her as footsteps in the snow. For her dead neighbor, and for herself, she must embark on a harrowing journey of lies, revelation and violence that will take her back to the world of ice and snow from which she comes, where an explosive secret waits beneath the ice.
Actual rating: 3.5 stars.
I can see why this is on so many of the “Books You Must Read” lists—it is not your typical Nordic Noir. In fact, it may have helped to define that genre. Høeg gives us a mystery, but certainly not the now-stereotypical format of a mystery story. For one thing, Smilla is a civilian, not associated with the police in any way. Also, the mysterious aspect of this story doesn’t really seem to be the centre of the work—I think that Høeg was much more interested in the colonial relationship between Denmark and Greenland than in who killed the child, Isaiah.
It wouldn’t surprise me to learn that Stieg Larsson had read Smilla before he wrote his Millennium series. Lisbeth Salander seems to have many similarities to Smilla Jaspersen. Neither of them fits into Scandinavian society. Both of them have technical expertise not necessarily expected in women, Salander in computers, Jaspersen in glaciology. Both of them take physical punishment during the course of the story but it doesn’t deter them from their goals—they seem unstoppable.
Smilla is the perfect main character for exploring the Danish colonial situation—her mother is Greenlandic Inuit and her father is a rich & famous Danish doctor. She has a foot in both worlds. She is educated, but ironically in glaciology, specializing in ice & snow. Cue the old myth that the Inuit have over 100 words for snow—and Smilla references quite a few of them during the course of the book. The supposed result of having so many terms for snow was a greater understanding of that substance, and Smilla is the one who interprets Isaiah’s footprints in the snow to reveal that he was murdered.
Interesting in its historical place of inspiring the current genre of Nordic Noir and for its exploration of colonialism, but not the most satisfying murder mystery.