I love thrillers and suspense novels, but somehow, I managed to miss Peter Høeg’s Smilla’s Sense of Snow, translated by Tiina Nunnally, when it was an international bestseller back in the 1990s. When I was looking for a book to read from Denmark for this project, it seemed like the perfect choice.
Smilla Jasperson is a scientist who is originally from Greenland, but is living in Copenhagen. In the same apartment building lives a young boy, Isaiah, who is also from Greenland, and his alcoholic mother. Smilla’s not really into children, but since Isaiah’s mother is rarely in any condition to care for him, Smilla ends up spending more and more time with him. When she comes home one day and discovers that he has fallen off the roof and is lying dead in the snow, she doesn’t believe it was an accident. Feeling that she owes it to Isaiah, she undertakes her own investigation to figure out why he was on the roof and what caused him to fall off.
Ice and snow play a major role in the plot, and these are elements Smilla has a sixth sense about, not merely because of her scientific studies about glaciers and seawater ice, but because of her childhood experiences in Greenland with her mother, an Inuit. She also has an uncanny gift for navigation. Smilla will have to call upon all of her knowledge and skills as she seeks the truth about Isaiah’s death. At times, I found the scientific discussions to be tedious, but the plot and the characters kept me interested in spite of those technical interludes.
I was especially interested to learn about the relationship between Denmark and its former colony, Greenland. Greenlanders who live in Denmark are mostly Inuit people, and they are very different in both appearance and culture, from the Danes. Friction resulting from these differences figures into the plot of Smilla’s Sense of Snow, in large part because Smilla herself is both Inuit and Danish.
This was a very satisfying book, with both a gripping plot and a wealth of information about things I hadn’t known before, and I’d be interested in reading more works by this author.
I had hoped to make a type of Danish cookie called spekulaas for this blog post, since a woman that Smilla interviews about Isaiah’s disappearance is baking them during Smilla’s visit. I found a recipe for a vegan version, but the recipe’s creator seemed to have left out some information I needed. Instead, I found a recipe for vegan Danish butter cookies on a blog called Wallflower Kitchen, and boy, are they good! A few notes about the recipe:
1. The measurements are in grams, so I converted them to cups: 7/8 cup vegan butter; 1 cup powdered sugar plus a little bit; and 2-1/2 cups flour.
2. The temperature in the recipe is given in degrees centigrade. For Fahrenheit, the correct temperature is 350 degrees.
3. Corn flour, in this recipe, refers to cornstarch.
4. I didn’t have a cookie press, so I just rolled out the dough and used cookie cutters.
I am never making these cookies again because they are so good that I can’t seem to stop stuffing them in my mouth. If you decide to make them, consider yourself warned!
GlobalGiving had only one project listed for Denmark, but it turned out to be the perfect one to go with the book I read for this post. Blue Cross Denmark offers a program that provides support to the children of alcoholics, such as little Isaiah in Smilla’s Sense of Snow. According to the project description, “[o]ne in ten Danish children is negatively affected by parental alcohol consumption, and at least 122,000 Danish children grow up in families with outright abuse.” Two community centers operated by Blue Cross Denmark provide children with the opportunity to spend their free time in a safe environment, where they can receive counseling or talk with other children who are experiencing similar situations. More information about this project is available at https://www.globalgiving.org/projects/support-for-children-of-alcoholics-in-denmark/.
NEXT STOP: ECUADOR
(Originally published on April 6, 2018.)
Pam Giarrizzo is a retired attorney who loves traveling, reading, and giving. She isn’t particularly fond of cooking, but she nevertheless reads, cooks, and gives for her armchair travel blog, The Booktrekker. Pam and her husband Phil live in Northern California, but they travel to Colombia often to visit their California-born son, their Argentine daughter-in-law, and their Colombian grandson. You can explore the world with Pam by following her blog at The Booktrekker or on Facebook at The Booktrekker | Facebook.