Shelf reads/18

Fathers body Minik coverGive me my father’s body:

The life of Minik, the New York Eskimo, by Kenn Harper

Published 2000 by Steerforth Press; several editions / formats available.

It’s quite a story. Histories with genuine bad guys are relatively rare, but Robert Peary and Morris Ketchum Jesup come out looking shabby at best, heartless at worst for essentially abandoning the Inuit they had brought to New York, including the boy, Minik. And Jesup was essentially covering as Peary smuggled items through customs as museum exhibits then resold them to “donors” to cover expedition expenses.

There’s good background on Peary, Arctic exploration, the history of Greenland, part of New Hampshire and the Polar Inuit (the little bit on their migratory settlement pattern and how they were essentially stranded after moving to what is now Greenland was really interesting).

The narrative got better as it went along. I got a little lost in the minutia in the first half or so, but as the cast of characters narrowed, the focus got more on Minik and it became easier to follow. This occurred as he was adopted by the museum’s building superintendent William Wallace and his wife.

Along the way various persons from the American Museum of Natural History faded into the background, Peary dropped out of sight, etc. Several people died, including Mrs. Wallace and Jesup and four of the Inuit (one returned to Greenland fairly quickly).

There is less detail as well, which is to be expected from a biography of a subject who was most famous in his youth and gradually faded from public sight — along with interest in Arctic exploration. So the pace of the book accelerates as it goes, making the second half a relatively brisk read.

Certainly worth a look for readers interested in Inuit culture, Arctic exploration and / or Robert Peary.

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