Book Review: The Snow Whale by John Minichillo
May 22, 2012 8 Comments
Number of pages: 266
First published: 2011
Genre: contemporary fiction
I got this book: for review from Atticus Books via Netgalley (ebook)
As you may know, I like stories about cold climates. I love all kinds of Scandinavian writers (from contemporary to crime, from classic to surreal) and I also love stories taking place in Alaska. I know, that’s not Scandinavia, but it’s even rougher and tougher up there. So I was keen to try this book about a man who discovers he’s part-Inuit and travels to Alaska to catch a whale.
The Snow Whale: What it is about
John Jacobs does a DNA test because of his colleague who found that he was part Mongolian and spent his holiday in Mongolia. However, he didn’t really connect with “his people” and when John finds out he’s 37% Inuit, he decides to do better than that. He sends a letter to “his tribe” to introduce himself and tell them he’ll be visiting soon. However, he receives the reply that they do not want him there.
But then, the chief of the tribe, an old man, who is considered a liability by the rest of his people, invites John to the whale hunt, and he can bring a son along. Having no son, John ends up in a less prosperous part of his home town, where he finds Q, a black boy of seventeen, who wants to become a movie-maker. So there go the 37%-Inuit without experience and the black boy with an unknown amount (possibly zero) of Inuit-DNA, with a lot of equipment, amongst which a film camera, on their way to Alaska to join in the whale hunt.
The Snow Whale: What I thought
This was a great read, almost a fairy tale, because of how unlikely it all was. Because of the great way the story is put together it wasn’t unbelievable. You know it would never happen like this, but you’re happy to suspend disbelief because of the fun story this is.
I loved it how they are accepted by the old man, right in the middle of the Inuit culture with little regard to their differing background. They are assigned women and receive a bit of harpoon practice. Q, the boy, ends up in prison just for being black, and is freed after John bribes the policemen. Then off they go whaling!
It’s such great book to read but it’s not all fun and games. There are serious issues being discussed between the lines: racial issues, the rights of tribes, relationships and finding your own way in life. There are also Inuit tales and the belief (or not) in a nature religion in which a white-coloured whale, the snow whale, plays a role.
Some other stories taking place in Alaska:
The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey
Caribou Island by David Vann
Away by Amy Bloom (partially)
Robopocalypse by Daniel Wilson (partially)
Into the Wild by John Krakauer
Raven Stole the Moon by Garth Stein