Smilla’s Sense of Snow

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Smilla Jaspersen cannot believe that the death of her seven-year-old friend Isaiah was the result of an accidental fall. She tries to convince police to look at the event more carefully, but they refuse and she is warned not to pursue an investigation of her own. When she persists, she finds that Isaiah and his mother had been supported by an unusually large pension paid by a large company, the Cryolite Corporation. Isaiah’s father, an Inuit, had died during one of two mysterious expeditions to Greenland carried out by the corporation; his death, she also finds, was somewhat mysterious.

In Copenhagen, aided by clues from a former auditor for the Cryolite Corporation, by her Danish father, by an investigator for the prosecutor, and by a shipping broker, as well as a newfound lover she calls the mechanic, she finds that there were two mysterious voyages to the west coast of Greenland carried out through the Cryolite Corporation. On of three men who headed these voyages is a blind Inuit genius; when he gives Smilla information he is killed and she almost dies in a fire which destroys an old wooden sailing vessel. She is sure that there is a criminal plot under way, and that drugs are part of it.

Smilla manages to sail on the KRONOS, which sails for an unknown destination. Two further attempts are made to kill Smilla, and although she finds heroin on the ship it is clear that the real purpose of the voyage is not to obtain or to sell drugs. When...

(The entire section is 466 words.)

Smilla’s Sense of Snow

(Literary Masterpieces, Critical Compilation)

Smilla Jasperson, an independent woman, returns to her Copenhagen apartment building one afternoon to find that her seven-year-old friend Isaiah has died in a fall from the roof of an adjacent warehouse. The police dismiss the death as an accident, since the boy’s footprints are the only Ones on the roof, but Smilla knows that the boy had a paralyzing fear of heights. She tries to get the police to look more deeply into Isaiah’s death, but it quickly becomes clear that someone wants the investigation ended, and Smilla is warned not to pry any further,

This warning and new, unexplained circumstances surrounding Isaiah and his alcoholic mother lead Smilla to press forward. She finds that they have been living well on a large pension from the company that employed Isaiah’s father when he was killed on an expedition to Greenland. She finds an ally in Peter Fojl, whom she calls the mechanic, a man who had also befriended Isaiah; where Smilla had provided the boy with education, reading to him from Euclid’s Elements and other adult texts and sometimes feeding him, the mechanic had given him training in manual arts. Smilla finds quickly that the autopsy that declared Isaiah the victim of an accident had been performed by a doctor named Johannes Loyen, and that the pension that allowed Isaiah’s mother to feed her alcoholic habit came from the Cryolite Corporation, which has extensive mining interests in Greenland, native home to Smilla and Isaiah. Loyen, she finds, had been involved in two mysterious expeditions to the west coast of Greenland under the aegis of the Cryolite Corporation. In his autopsy report, he failed to note that a muscle sample was taken from Isaiah’s body after the boy was dead.

With the help of the former auditor of the Cryolite Corporation, a religious woman named Elsa Lubing, Smilla finds that the corporation’s expeditions involved a number of people who had at one time or another spent time in the Far East, where they were apparently involved in the drug trade. She locates Andreas Fine Licht, an Inuit who has a doctorate in linguistics and is now the curator of the Arctic Museum, located on a refitted sailing ship in Copenhagen’s harbor. Licht, who had been on the earlier trips, provides Smilla with more information, but before revealing very much he is killed. Smilla nearly dies in the fire that destroys the museum; she must swim through icy waters to save her life.

Smilla is helped in her search for information by an honest medical examiner named Lagermarn, by Ravn, a prosecutor’s investigator who has been told to lay off the case, and by her father, Dr. Moritz Jaspersen, who gives her money reluctantly but also provides her with information about others in the medical profession. Through Birgo Lander, shipping broker and part owner of a casino, she meets Captain Sigmund Lukas, who is about to take a ship to an unknown destination. Lukas agrees to hire her as a stewardess for the trip. Waiting for the sailing date, she is warned by Ravn that the police are looking for her, and she takes refuge at her father’s house. There she is betrayed by her father’s young lover, Benja, a twenty-two-year-old ballerina who is jealous of Smilla and tells the police where she is. Her father spirits her away, and Lander gets her aboard the Kronos just before it sails. No one, not even Captain Lukas, knows the ship’s destination.

The Kronos has been reinforced structurally to make it seaworthy in icy seas, and Smilla becomes convinced that she is right in thinking that the ship is headed for Greenland. As the ship plows through the North Sea and then the North Atlantic, she finds more and more oddities on board. The hold has been enlarged and strengthened, and has a highly expensive heating and cooling system. The crew seems to consist mainly of cutthroats, including Verlaine, the bosun, the deck hands, and two Asian women, although Smilla finds a reluctant ally in the deck hand Bernard Jakkelsen, a heroin addict who, like the captain and most of the crew, suspects that she is a police agent. Three mysterious passengers are hidden from Smilla for a while. Eventually she identifies two of them; the third proves to be Torkk, leader of the expedition, a man of uncanny and formidable power and authority.

While the Kronos is still on the way to...

(The entire section is 1779 words.)

Historical Context

(Novels for Students)

A monument in Greenland to Hans Egede, an eighteenth-century missionary who converted Inuits to Christianity, an important event in the colonization of Greenland Published by Gale Cengage

Understanding the cultural and historical relationship between Greenland and Denmark is essential for an understanding of

(The entire section is 692 words.)

Literary Style

(Novels for Students)

The term “genre” refers to the category of a given literary work in either form or content. In terms of...

(The entire section is 1001 words.)

Topics for Further Study

(Novels for Students)

Read a short history of the Danish colonization of Greenland in an encyclopedia or another source. Imagine the story of the colonization told...

(The entire section is 264 words.)

Media Adaptations

(Novels for Students)

Julia Ormond as Smilla Jasperson in the film production of Smillas Sense of Snow Published by Gale Cengage

Smilla’s Sense of Snow was adapted into a film in 1997 by Twentieth Century Fox. The film was...

(The entire section is 163 words.)

Bibliography and Further Reading

(Novels for Students)

Bell, Pearl, “Fiction Chronicle,” in Partisan Review, Vol. LXI, No. 1, Winter 1994, pp. 80–95....

(The entire section is 499 words.)