Give Me My Father's Body: The Life of Minik, the New York Eskimo

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9780606227841: Give Me My Father's Body: The Life of Minik, the New York Eskimo

In his search for the North Pole at the turn of the twentieth century, the renowned Robert E. Peary, long celebrated as an icon of modern exploration, used the Eskimos of northwestern Greenland as the human resources for his expeditions. Sailing aboard a ship called Hope in 1897, Peary entered New York harbor with six Eskimos as his cargo. Depositing them with the American Museum of Natural History as live "specimens" to be poked, measured, and observed by the paying public, Peary abruptly abandoned any responsibility for their care. Four of the Eskimos died within a year. One managed to gain passage back to Greenland. Only the sixth, a boy of six or seven with a precociously solemn smile, remained, orphaned and adrift in a bewildering metropolis. His name was Minik. Here, a century after the fact, is his story.

A searing true tale of extraordinary darkness told with intensity and vigilance, Give Me My Father's Body is Kenn Harper's absorbing, intricately documented account of ruthless imperialism in the name of science, of cruel deceptions and false burials, and of the short, strange, and tragic life of the boy known as the New York Eskimo.

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Review:

At last returning to print, Give Me My Father's Body is the thought-provoking tale of Minik, a young Inuit boy brought to New York by Robert Peary around the turn of the 20th century. Told simply and interspersed with personal letters and newspaper clippings, the book examines Minik's life both as a cross-cultural meeting place and a deeply personal search for a place to call "home." Photographs throughout of Minik give a glimpse into the incredible differences between the multiple worlds he inhabited, and how impossible it must have been to live in these worlds successfully. The title derives from one of Minik's more harrowing experiences--finding his father's bones displayed in a natural-history museum as a "curiosity"--and his attempts to retrieve the bones for a more respectful burial. Author Kenn Harper, while including many facts and articles about Arctic exploration, refrains from sharing opinions about the various explorers or their methods, choosing to share this story--and his years of research--plainly. From the death of Minik's birth father to the financial ruin of his American foster family, the events of Minik's childhood seem like one disaster after another, and his adulthood--the successful return to Greenland, followed by disappointment and a subsequent return to New York--is an unhappy struggle to find some kind of personal fulfillment. Questions of racial and cultural differences make an inescapable larger framework for Minik's life, and the emotions brought forward in answering those questions make reading this book a powerful experience. --Jill Lightner

About the Author:

For more than thirty years, Kenn Harper has lived in Eskimo communities in the Baffin Region and in Qaanaaq, Greenland. He has worked as a teacher, development officer, historian, linguist, and businessman. He speaks Inuktitut, the Eskimo language of the eastern Canadian Arctic, and has written extensively on northern history and the Inuktitut language. He now lives in Iqaluit, capital of the new Arctic territory of Nunavut, and was recently elected a Fellow of the Royal Geographic Society.

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