This Cold Heaven: Seven Seasons in Greenland

Gretel Ehrlich

In an unforgettable tribute to the far latitudes, Gretel Ehrlich travels across Greenland, the largest island on earth.

Greenland is the largest island on earth. All but five percent of it is covered by a vast ice sheet, an enduring remnant of the last ice age. Despite a uniquely hostile environment, it has been inhabited continuously for thousands of years.

Greenlanders retain many of their traditional practices. Some still hunt on sleds made from whale and caribou with packs of dogs; others fashion harpoons from Narwhal tusks; entranced shamans make soul fights under the ice. The modern population lives on the edge of a stone- and ice-age world and has reached a unique understanding of it.

Ehrlich mixes stories of European anthropologists who have recorded the ways of the Inuit, with artists who have lived briefly on Greenland’s fringe in order to try to capture its extraordinary pure light. She travels across this unearthly landscape in the company of men and women who have a deep bond with it, and with them she discovers the realm of the Great Dark, ice pavilions, polar bears and Eskimo nomads. She learns about hunting and endurance, inuit languages, legends and ghosts. Conjuring up Greenland’s cruel, beautiful landscape, she shows that it is a land endowed with magical and mysterious properties. St Brendan, the sixth century Irish monk, described one of its huge glaciers as ‘a floating crystal castle the colour of a silver veil, yet hard as marble and the sea around it as smooth as glass and white as milk.’ It has lost none of its power to enthral.

Reviews of This Cold Heaven: Seven Seasons in Greenland

    • ‘A passionately written account…It could well be one of the last portraits of a land and a way of life that is about to be lost forever.’ The Times
    • ‘Beautifully written…her book is a celebration of place and people that makes almost nostalgic reading as the planet warms, icebergs melt and the Inuit – and seals and polar bears – wonder how long their way of life will last.’ Financial Times
    • ‘A lyrical but marvellously unsentimental account.’ John Burnside
    • ‘Her enthusiasm is infectious and her indomitable determination to make a record of a culture under threat is admirable.’ Evening Standard