Smilla: first impressions

Well, four people voted on my poll and two of them voted for Smilla’s Sense of Snow, so that’s what I’m reading now. The poll was sort of silly, since I actually own all of these books and I can read them any time I want. But it was a fun excuse to try out the poll thing anyway.

Anyway, Smilla. I am on page 68. So far, so good. My BFF read this recently and when she was about halfway through she told me I had to read this book and I would love it and the main character actually reminded her of me. Hmmm. She is my BFF and all, and we do have pretty similar taste in books, but still. Bud at Older Eyes recently wrote a hilarious post about how he finds himself “repelled by other people’s enthusiasms” — and I have the same problem.

On the other hand, when someone you’ve known since age 10 tells you the main character reminds her of you, well, that’s not to be taken lightly.

So, Smilla. First of all, I hate her name. Try saying it out loud: “Smilla.” Hard not to giggle and feel like a jerk for being such a stupid provincial monoglot.

Other than that? She thinks math is beautiful (so do I!) and she craves solitude (so do I, oh so do I!). She’s a sad, tortured soul, though, and I hope I’m not too much like her.

The story is unfolding very nicely, with a perfectly-proportioned mix of present action and backstory. The prose, translated from Danish, is solid and evocative. The suspense is building. The setting is coming into sharp focus (Copenhagen, mostly, with detours into Greenland). It’s a cold, wintry book: a sharp contrast from my previous read, which was set in Haiti. Here’s a sample:

I feel the same way about solitude as some people feel about the blessing of the church. It’s the light of grace for me. I never close my door behind me without the awareness that I am carrying out an act of mercy toward myself. Cantor illustrated the concept of infinity for his students by telling them that there was once a man who had a hotel with an infinite number of rooms, and the hotel was fully occupied. Then one more guest arrived. So the owner moved the guest in room number 1 into room number 2; the guest in room number 2 into number 3; the guest in 3 into room 4, and so on. In that way room number 1 became vacant for the new guest.

What delights me about this story is that everyone involved, the guests and the owner, accept it as perfectly natural to carry out an infinite number of operations so that one guest can have peace and quiet in a room of his own. That is a great tribute to solitude.


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  1. Some time ago I tried out the poll by asking readers what topic I should choose for my next post. I had this really good post on spirituality in mind and they ALL voted against it. I’ll never do that again. I’ve taken an incredible amount of mathematics, but I’m an engineer … I’ve always viewed it as a tool. Words, however, are another story. I enjoy yours.

    I appreciate the link

    Bud aka Older Eyes

  2. I thought about majoring in math in college but I quickly changed my mind after the first day of Linear Algebra & Differential Equations. Yikes! I still kinda regret dropping it though, because the next course would have been something called Discrete Math. I have no idea what that is but I love the name.

    I think you should go ahead with the spirituality post anyway!

  3. I think I’m sold on this book, thanks for the sneak peek. Also, I’m with you on Bud’s spirituality post: I would like to read it, too.

  4. You’re welcome! Maybe we should go find his poll and vote…

  5. Ok, I found it. You can go vote for spirituality here. Bud, are you listening? :-)


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