Give Me My Father’s Body by Kenn Harper

Give Me My Father's BodyThis is a well-researched account of the life of Minik Wallace, the “New York Eskimo,” who was brought from polar Greenland with his father and four others by Robert Peary, the northern explorer. (He was reputed to have discovered the North Pole, but that is very much in question.)

It is a tragic story. The group were treated as scientific specimens and, though they had been told they could return home, four of the group died of TB after having been housed in the Museum of Natural History. Minik, a child, was adopted by an American, though the museum and Peary refused to help support him. He sought repeatedly to claim his father’s bones, on exhibit, for a traditional burial. He returned north after many years, but he had forgotten his native language and had difficulty fitting back into the Eskimo culture.

This book is densely and carefully written. I found it slow going, though I very much wanted to know what became of this young man, who didn’t seem to fit in anywhere and was so poorly treated by his adopted country.

Reviewed by Sue D.


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