Praise for Trails to Heaven
Sir Ranulph Fiennes: "A white-knuckle ride to the margins of human endurance."
Doris Lessing: "For those fascinated by...the Arctic, by the extremities of snow and ice - the terror and wonder of it - here is their book...This is a good read. I thoroughly recommend it."
Paul Blezard, presenter of Between The Lines, One Word Radio: "The best first novel I have read in the six years have been presenting this programme."
John Dugdale, The Sunday Times: "...the book's most memorable aspect is its vivid portrayal of the threatened ways of the Inuit, from shamanistic healing to ancestral hunting."
Trails to Heaven
Trails to Heaven
Trails to Heaven is the result of 10 years of research during a series of visits to an Inuit hamlet of subsistence hunters in Baffin Island. Invited to join their hunting trips for polar bears, narwhal and seals, I gained a privileged insight into a lifestyle that has little changed.
The idea for the book was triggered when I chanced upon the memoirs of a former magistrate who recorded that a group of Inuit in Baffin Island had suffered horrific amputations after eating the meat of a walrus they had shot. Embedded in the creature's hide was a harpoon of ancient Greenland design. Was the harpoon Norse, I wondered? If so, how had it reached Baffin Island? With the help of archaeologists and historians, I set out to unravel the mystery in fiction.
Gratifyingly, my story about a pristine Viking site that would rewrite history has been overtaken by reality. Recent discoveries by Patricia Sutherland, a leading Quebec archaeologist, have overturned assumptions about the Vikings' intentions in North America. Baffin Island plays an important part in the new scenario.
According to conventional wisdom, Leif Ericsson and his band of Norse sailed from their base in Greenland to secure a single foothold on the north American continent - the famous "Vinland" settlement in Newfoundland. But hostile Indians forced them to return home after only a couple of years, never to return.
The latest evidence suggests a different story. The Vikings' prime motivation was expanding their lucrative trade with Norway by supplying luxury goods such as walrus ivory and polar bear fur - of which American Eskimos were preeminent hunters. Vinland was a important resource centre rather than a Norse attempt at permanent settlement, but it proved too far from their Greenland farms. So they looked nearer to home.
Sutherland's findings point to a chain of Norse trading posts stretching hundreds of miles from Baffin Island to Labrador. The latter's coast offered ample supplies of bog iron and timber - commodities prized by the Eskimos on the treeless tundra to the north. Far from being natural enemies, as previously supposed, the two groups found an accomodation in mutual need.
Email: Diana Colbert, firstname.lastname@example.org
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