Smilla Qaaviqaaq Jaspersen, 37-year-old product of the stormy union of a female Inuit hunter and a rich urban Danish physician, is a loner who struggles to live with her fractured heritage. Living alone in a dreary apartment complex in Christianshavn, Copenhagen, she befriends Isaiah, the neglected son of her alcoholic neighbour, because he too is Greenlandic and not truly at home in Denmark. Smilla’s friendship with Isaiah, recounted in the novel in flashback, gives some meaning to her otherwise lonely life. Isaiah’s sudden death is explained officially as a fall from the roof whilst playing, but Smilla’s understanding of the tracks the child left on the snowy roof convinces her that this is untrue. She complains to the police and quickly encounters obstruction and hostility from the authorities and other sources. Working with Peter, a mechanic neighbour who had also known and liked Isaiah, and with whom she begins an affair despite her fear of dependency, Smilla discovers that there is a conspiracy centred on Gela Alta, an isolated glaciated island off Greenland. Previous expeditions have found something there (Isaiah’s father was a diver who died on one of them, allegedly in an accident) and now plans are afoot to return for it. Isaiah’s death is linked to this conspiracy in some way. After a long journey of discovery in Copenhagen, during which she learns that the mechanic is not who he says he is, Smilla braves intimidation and threats and eventually gets on board the ship chartered for the mysterious expedition to Gela Alta, ostensibly as a stewardess. The final action takes place on the ship and the island. Smilla is held in deep suspicion by the ship’s crew—who turn out to be all in some way compromised and in the pay of the mysterious Tørk Hviid, who is the expedition’s real leader. Despite repeated attempts on her life by crew members, who assume she is from the authorities, Smilla doggedly pursues the truth, even when she discovers that Peter has deceived and betrayed her. The secret of the island isevealed to be a meteorite embedded in the glacier, certainly uniquely valuable—perhaps even alive in some way. However, the water surrounding it is infested with a lethal parasite related to the Guinea worm, which is what really killed Isaiah’s father. Isaiah was forced off the roof because he had accompanied his father on the previous expedition and had evidence of the meteorite’s location—and the parasite itself was actually dormant in his body. When Smilla learns that Tørk Hviid had chased Isaiah off the roof to his death, she pursues him out onto the frozen sea. He tries to reach the ship and force it to sail away, but Smilla chases him, using her intuitive ice-sense to head him off, out into isolation and danger. Here the novel ends.
“To want to understand is an attempt to recapture something we have lost.”
“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.”
“Falling in love has been greatly overrated. Falling in love consists of 45 percent fear of not being accepted, 45 percent manic hope that this time the fear will be put to shame and a modest 10 percent frail awareness of the possibility of love.
I don’t fall in love any more. Just like I don’t get the mumps.”
“Some thoughts have glue on them.
“The cookies combine butter and spices in such a way that you could eat a hundred of them and only realize how sick you are after it’s too late.”
The number system is like human life. First you have the natural numbers. The ones that are whole and positive. Like the numbers of a small child. But human consciousness expands. The child discovers longing. Do you know the mathematical expression for longing? The negative numbers. The formalization of the feeling that you’re missing something.
The way you have a sense of God, I have a sense of snow.