Niviaq Korneliussen becomes the first Greenlandic author to win a top Nordic book prize

She won the Nordic Council Literature Prize for "Naasuliardarpi," her novel about suicide among young people in Greenland.

By Kevin McGwin - November 3, 2021
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A street scene from the town of Sisimiut, Greenland. (Kevin McGwin)

She has been called Greenland’s unlikely literary star, but today, Niviaq Korneliussen can call herself that country’s first winner of the Nordic region’s most important literary award.

Korneliussen, 31, was awarded the Nordic Council Literature Prize on Tuesday for her second novel, “Naasuliardarpi,” which focuses on love, friendship and suicide among Greenlandic youth.

It is a book that, according to the nominating committee, “offers an insight into the lives of Greenlanders today and the traumas that still cut deep in day-to-day life.”

“Naasuliardarpi” is told from the perspective of an unnamed protagonist who experiences her first suicide at the age of 13. The story follows the final months of the life of the protagonist — now a young adult studying at a university in Denmark — as she finds herself in what reviewer Klaus Rothstein, writing in the Danish weekly Weekendavisen, described as “existential homelessness” on account of her homosexuality and her ethnicity.

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She “can neither live in Greenland nor in Denmark and clings to the hope of living in a more tolerant Canada,” Rothstein wrote.

Eventually, the protagonist takes her own life. Between each of the book’s chapters, counting down from 45, the number of people in Greenland who took their own lives in 2019, Korneliussen writes a short passage about suicide.

In nominating “Naasuliardarpi,” which has been published in 10 languages (but is yet to be translated into English), the jury described it as a “fantastically well-written tale about the backside of mainstream Greenland among young people struggling to be allowed to live the lives they want.”

Korneliussen was nominated for the Nordic Council Literature Prize in 2015 for her first novel, “Last Night in Nuuk” (published as “Crimson” in the United Kingdom), which explores LGBT lifestyles in Greenland.

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Last Night in Nuuk,” originally written in Greenlandic under the title “HOMO sapienne,” was, like “Naasuliardarpi,” self-translated into Danish. It has been published in eight other languages and has been performed as a play. A film version is forthcoming.

Established in 1962, the Nordic Council Literature Prize is awarded each year to a work of “high literary and artistic standards” that has been published in one of the Nordic languages, Greenlandic or the Sámi languages.

The prize is one of the most prestigious awards that Nordic authors can win and has been described as the regional equivalent of the UK’s Booker Prize.