The hero of Susanna Kaysen's Far Afield is the gloomy young anthropologist Jonathan Brand. Brand goes to a remote Scandinavian island, careens between horror and wonder at what he finds there, and eventually learns to lighten up. The specifics of the plot are disappointingly pat. In the first paragraph, Jonathan loses his luggage. On page 96 he's "accepted" by the villagers. On page 246 he slaughters his first whale. On page 310 he gets lucky with a native. At times, Far Afield is so full of information — recipes for whale blubber, the migrating patterns of birds — that the book reads like Let's Go Arctic Circle. Still, there's some fine writing here, and one unforgettable scene in which somebody named Sigurd butchers a sheep in Jonathan's kitchen. Kaysen eventually wins you over, but, like Jonathan, you go down fighting. B-

Far Afield
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