In the Arctic, winter goes on for ten months every year. The cold temperatures penetrate every aspect of human life. Existence is a struggle. In the Canadian community of Rankin Inlet, an Inuit woman finds personal tragedy as abundant as the snow. Victoria is diagnosed with tuberculosis (puvaluq) as a child and sent to a sanatorium far south of home. Following treatment with medication and a thoracoplasty, she returns to her town years later. Victoria's experience has changed her view of the world but she quickly discovers that in her absence, the people and locale have transformed too.

She marries an outsider, John Robertson, who is a British businessman. His success and local influence allow him to arrange for a foreign-owned diamond mine to open in the area, and with it, a new hospital for the territory. The couple have three children - a son, Pauloosie, along with two daughters, Justine and Marie.

Victoria seems a magnet for misfortune. At age 16, she has a miscarriage. A fourth child dies during a complicated delivery. Her marriage is increasingly strained beyond repair. Victoria's father suffers a stroke and becomes demented. Her mother dies of lung cancer. Husband John is murdered - someone slits his throat. Marie commits suicide. Pauloosie leaves home and sails to the South Pacific.

The Robertson family frequently interacts with the American primary care physician stationed in the isolated region. Dr. Keith Balthazar is a middle-aged atheist who has toiled in the Arctic for more than 20 years and abuses morphine. He keeps a journal of his experiences and meditations and commiserates with the local priest, Father Bernard.

Escape appears to be the best chance at happiness. For Victoria and most everyone else living in this harsh and beautiful land, survival - both physical and emotional - is hard. Personal choices are confusing. Nature doesn't seem to care one way or another.


Consumption has more than one meaning in this fine novel. The term obviously refers to tuberculosis and how the disease insidiously ravages the lungs and consumes an individual to the point of physical wasting and perhaps death. The word is also employed to acknowledge the increasing trend of devouring the planet's natural resources. It even points to the guzzling of food that has directly spawned epidemics of diabetes and obesity. Additionally, people are consumed by desire, power, love, and their surroundings.

Cold is a useful symbol in the book. The importance of the land, adaptation, and the exact meaning of home are vital matters. Loneliness and displacement are significant issues. The novel emphasizes gaps - cultural and generational. Change is relentless. Which is the mightier force in human life - hope or history?


First published in Canada by Random House, 2006.

Primary Source



Nan A. Talese/Doubleday

Place Published

New York



Page Count