Miss Smilla’s Feeling for Snow
is the 1992 mystery crime-fiction novel written by Danish author Peter Høeg. Set in Copenhagen, the story follows Smilla Jaspersen, a lonely half-Inuit scientist from Greenland who feels out of place in Denmark. When a six-year-old Inuit boy named Isaiah plummets to his death from a rooftop one snowy evening, the authorities declare it an accident. However, Smilla suspects murder as the cause of death and sets out on a perilous mission to find the truth. As she investigates, Smilla uses her expertise from years of studying glaciology to discover what really happened to the acrophobic Isaiah, a neighbor whom she’s cared for in the past. Alternatively titled Smilla’s Sense of Snow
in America, the novel was shortlisted for an Edgar Award in 1994, and was named Winner of the Crime Writers’ Association Silver Dagger Award in 1994. In 1997, the novel was adapted as a motion picture entitled Smilla’s Sense of Snow
, directed by Bille August and starring Julia Ormond as Smilla.
Narrated in the first-person perspective by 37-year-old Smilla Qaaviqaaq Jasperson, the story begins in Copenhagen, Denmark. Smilla is a lonely, grumpy, half-Inuit Greenlander living alone in the Christianshavn area. Her mother Ane was a native Eskimo unwilling to leave her homeland in Greenland, while her father Peter is a Danish anesthesiologist. Throughout the story, Smilla grapples with her fractious ancestry. Although unable to hold a steady job, Smilla is a leading authority on snow and ice who has made nine expeditions to her homeland and published six highly-esteemed scholarly articles on glaciology. Just before Christmastime, Smilla arrives at her apartment complex called the White Palace.
Upon arrival, Smilla finds a boy lying face down in the snow. Next to his corpse, weeping, is a mechanic, Peter Føjl. The boy turns out to be Smilla’s neighbor, the six-year-old Isaiah Christensen, also an Inuit. The police declare Isaiah’s death an accidental fall from the roof of a nearby warehouse. However, knowing that Isaiah suffered from a fear of heights (acrophobia), Smilla suspects that murder is the cause of death. Additionally, Smilla uses her expertise to determine from Isaiah’s tracks in the snow that foul play must have occurred. Smilla surmises that Isaiah deliberately jumped off the roof, likely to evade an attacker. Smilla presses authorities to open a homicide investigation, but instead, an expert in the fraud division is dispatched to the crime scene.
Through a series of flashbacks, Smilla’s relationship to Isaiah is explained in greater detail. Although Smilla loathes children in general, she spent time caretaking for Isaiah after his alcoholic mother, Juliane, neglected the boy. As such, Smilla’s investigation becomes deeply personal. Presently, Smilla consorts with a series of experts, including the Director of Arctic Medicine Institute, Johannes Loyne. However, nothing these experts say dissuades Smilla from her theory that Isaiah was murdered. While going through Juliane’s files, Smilla discovers a connection between Isaiah and the Cryolite Corporation, a Danish company that mines natural resources in Greenland. Smilla learns Isaiah’s father was killed during a mining mission in Greenland, and that Cryolite has given Juliane a widow’s pension. As she investigates further, Smilla has an affair with Føjl and eventually falls in love with him despite never fully trusting him.
As Smilla continues to investigate, she uncovers a link between Loyne, an accountant named David Ving, and an Inuit-linguist named Andreas Fine Licht. These three are found to be involved in a 1966 Greenland expedition that killed eight people; and another in 1991 that killed Isaiah’s father. Smilla learns a third expedition among the three is imminent. Smilla takes a tape hidden at Isaiah’s home to be translated by Licht, who lives on a boat where the Arctic Museum resides. When Smilla returns to retrieve the tape, she finds Licht’s dead body. A mysterious figure appears and tries to kill Smilla, but she makes an escape just before the boat explodes.
Smilla soon learns that, during the Greenland expeditions, the divers did not die of botulism as initially reported by the Cryolite Corporation. Instead, the divers succumbed to a worm found in the water near a meteorite. The worm is typically found in tropical waters, and isn’t known for killing its hosts. Føjl introduces Smilla to his friend, Birgo Lander, who gives her the name of the ship next in line for a Greenland expedition. Lander arranges for Smilla to serve as a stewardess on the ship, called the Kronos
. While on the ship, Smilla meets a series of dodgy characters as she continues to investigate. Smilla learns the men on the ship are smuggling drugs. When stopping to refuel, Smilla attempts to escape, but hesitates when she finds the captain’s heroin-addicted brother, Jakkelson, dead on the boat-deck. Afterwards, Smilla is shocked to see Føjl board the ship, as she is uncertain of his loyalties. Føjl gives Smilla over to a man named Tørk, who explains that Smilla is under arrest. Smilla is put in a cabin below deck, at which point she knows she isn’t under arrest but rather a sitting duck about to be murdered.
The final portion of the novel takes place at Isla Gela Alta, the underground area which holds the enigmatic meteorite. Smilla learns that Føjl is readying to dive into the water to remove the meteorite, and knows that he will die in his attempt. Rushing to the work area, Smilla is confronted by Tørk. A scuffle ensues, during which a man named Lukas tries to kill Smilla with a harpoon. Eventually, Smilla discovers that Tørk was the one on the roof the day Isaiah died. Tørk was trying to retrieve the tape in Isaiah’s possession, forcing the boy to jump off the roof to his death. Lukas fires a harpoon at Tørk and misses. Tørk shoots Lukas’ arm off. Føjl betrays Tørk and knocks him to the floor. The novel ends with Smilla pursuing Tørk across an ever-thinning layer of ice. Smilla’s final line of the novel is “there will be no resolution.”