A Year in Lapland

Hugh Beach wrote A YEAR IN LAPLAND six years before he completed the doctorate in anthropology, wrapped his manuscript in plastic, and shelved it. Thirteen years later, he took it down, his wife translated it from English into Swedish, and it was published (1988) in Sweden. Now we have the English edition.

Had Beach written this book half a dozen years later or had he done a major revision, it would have been a more objective, anthropologically respectable document.

Happily, he offers A YEAR IN LAPLAND as he wrote it, capturing the enthusiasm and wonder of a young man discovering a little-known people in a remote, forbidding terrain. The book suits perfectly the general audience it wishes to reach.

Beach espouses interesting theories. Because of correspondences in the folkways of the circumpolar people, he concludes that Lapland—now part of four nations—and its Saami inhabitants once belonged to a single unified Arctic culture. In Saami folklore, he finds elements that correspond to such rites as the ritualistic bear-hunt mythology of Japan.

The Saami, like Indian tribes in the New World, have shamans and believe that spirits inhabit all things in nature—stones, plants, insects—a concept explored by such Native American writers as Gerald Vizenor and N. Scott Momaday. Beach explores compelling cultural crosscurrents that have long intrigued anthropologists and folklorists.

The chapter that will linger longest in most readers’ minds is “Winter in Jokkmokk,” in which Beach walks readers through the seemingly endless Arctic night he spent in his goattieh (sod house). The eventual end of winter, the subtle reappearance of the sun, stirs the soul. The book’s illustrations, many in color, are particularly enticing.