about the author

Staff Book Reviewer Spencer Dew is the author of critical study The Aliites: Race and Law in the Religions of Noble Drew Ali (University of Chicago Press, 2019), novel Here Is How It Happens (Ampersand Books, 2013), critical study Learning for Revolution: The Work of Kathy Acker (San Diego State University Press, 2011), chapbook Mont-Saint-Michel and Chartres (Another New Calligraphy, 2010), and short story collection Songs of Insurgency (Vagabond Press, 2008).

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Last Night in Nuuk
A Review of Last Night in Nuuk
by Niviaq Korneliussen

Spencer Dew

To be young and queer and trapped in the clusterfuck claustrophobia of a colonized capital and writhing, formless desire—for sex, for self, for a change of scenery, for any sort of jolt or happening—this is Korneliussen’s raw material, kids gone mildly wild, within dull reason: “Oh, troublemaker weekend. I’m ready. Oh, delightful weekend. I’m partying again. Oh, eternal weekend. Repetitive weekend. Walking in partying circles. Ready to go again.” Korneliussen, an indigenous Greenlander who published this novel originally in the colonizer’s language, Danish, weaves in text message transcripts to capture the urgency of drunk apologies, demands, and pleas, all preserved in round-edge text balloons, a digital archive, assembled as part of an indictment.

The scene is set in Nuuk, Greenland, in the minds and voices and never-numb-enough experiences of five narrators, in five separate sections, slaloming through the slowly unraveling ends of relationships (“False smiles turning uglier. Dry kisses stiffening like desiccated fish. Bad sex should be avoided at all costs.”), childhood trauma (“The fucked thing will never go away! . . . My fucking dad will never die!”), or simply trying to hide from feelings, their identity. A lot of this hiding happens at the bottom of a string of bottles (“Carlsberg beer, Classic beer, vodka, tequila, Hot n’Sweet liqueur, Arnbitter, Jack Daniel’s”), though some involves actually physical fleeing, or putting in an effort to flee. But where can you go to get away from your own sense of self?

Greenland is the central driving force of the plot; Greenland as half hamster wheel, half bad trip, but also with familiar songs and a worn groove that is as addictive as it is inescapable. Greenland is identity and home, subjugated status and an austere exile-for-life. Just what it means to be a Greenlander, just how it feels for this place to be home (the home you hate, the home you deny, the home that defines you) is the concern of all the blurred narratives of the boys and girls in these pages, puking and fucking and drinking and dreaming of something else.

For those of us reading this novel in translation, as non-Greenlanders, with likely only a passing understanding of the colonial situation there, this angst over identity and link to place, framed explicitly in terms of relations to the colonizers, those fairer-skinned Danes who conquered and continue to control the natives of this sprawling, thawing land, is going to be read in terms of colonial parallels. Greenland isn’t unlike Frantz Fanon’s Martinique, with the buzzed internal dialogue of the characters here a rougher version of that thinker’s theories: “I hate that Greenlanders are so angry at each other. / I hate that Greenlanders are so full of anger,” anger that begets anger, anger at anger, an inchoate rage, craze:

It makes me crazy that I’m from Greenland. / It makes me crazy that I look like a Greenlander. / It makes me crazy that I’m not a Dane. / It makes me crazy that I’m a Greenlander. / The island of anger. / Angry people make me angry. The simmering anger makes me angry. / Anger makes me angry. / I’m angry at my anger. / I’m angry at myself.

This is what colonialism feels like, made all the more sour for a younger generation for whom the old nationalism is so much stale and puffed-up pride. It is this generation, too, that deals not just with a thawing sexual atmosphere (more queer, to be sure, but heavily peppered with homophobia, as the novel explores) but also with a general, literal thaw—this thaw is one reason the Danish government is so committed to keeping Greenland under its crown is that all predictions point to a resource boom in the near future as climate change allows mining previously impossible due to ice. Korneliussen, with this book, has pulled off a parallel trick, melting away layers of restraint and transporting us, as readers, into the psyches of young folks in a place rendered provincial by global powers that don’t just occupy and exploit, but, most important, worm their way into the self-perception of the colonized.

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