April 12, 2013

Vagrant Viking by Peter Freuchen

If I only accomplish a third of what Peter Freuchen accomplished in his lifetime I shall be very happy. Except for the self-amputation of part of his own foot. I'll leave that well enough alone. Freuchen led an incredibly exciting life and this book is one that is hard to put down.

Vagrant Viking is Freuchen's autobiography. Born in Denmark, he was a disturbing child that performed many hijinks. As he grew up, he realized University was not for him and instead joined an expedition to Greenland and the arctic. Here he would stay many years running a trading post and marrying, but Greenland wasn't the last of his travels and he also went to Siberia and to Hollywood to make movies. During World War II he was part of the resistance and was arrested several times by the Gestapo. And those are only some of his stories.

If this book was only about Freuchen it would still be remarkable. He did so much with his life and made an impact on so many people. While I think he was a little socio-pathic as a youth, he grew out of that and helped a lot of people. Most of the people he mentions in this book are spoken of fondly. He obviously loved his first wife, Navarana, and missed her deeply when she died. His second wife, Magda, was more distant and based on his descriptions I'm not sure what he saw in her. She certainly didn't have any redeeming qualities that I could see. His third wife, Dagmar, also didn't play much of a role in the book, but at least seemed a stronger person than Magda. People you knew he definitely didn't like were Hitler's regime. As part of the underground movement, he made a lot of trouble for the Gestapo in Denmark.

Freuchen goes on a lot of adventures in this book. Some of them good, some of them bad, and he comes close to dying a few times. But that doesn't stop him. I like the way he added such detail to his books. You get the full effect of the taste of rotting seal or the fear of hiding from the Germans. Freuchen gets his emotions across very well. And while some of these descriptions might not be for everyone (the aforementioned seal), I hazard a guess that everyone will find something they like in this book. Just the section on Hollywood and his experiences making movies was exciting. I now want to find his Eskimo movie and watch it as he does actually act in it.

A fantastic life and I'm glad he shared it with us. Between this book and the Book of the Eskimos I read from him, I'm very much now a fan.

Vagrant Viking
Copyright 1953
414 pages

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