Health Through the Space Lens

Fictional Representations of Health and Illness in Svalbard's Mining Towns in the 1950s




Svalbard, coal mining, health


The article discusses cultural perceptions and interpretations of health and illness in a Svalbard context through the analysis of the novels Longyearbyen (2020) by the Norwegian writer Heidi Sævareid and The Arctic Novel (1964) by the Soviet writer Vladlen Anchishkin. Both novels use Svalbard of the 1950s as a setting for portraying issues related to health and illness.

It is evident from the analyses that issues related to health and illness were essential in both Norwegian and Russian settlements on Svalbard in the 1950s. Many of the same diseases and incidents, such as mining injuries, hypothermia and appendicitis, are prevalent in both novels. An interesting difference is that The Arctic Novel does not contain references to psychiatric diseases, even though they were presumably relevant for the inhabitants on Svalbard, irrespectively of their geographical provenance and social background.

One of the overarching themes that arises from these texts, is how the spatial setting directly affects health and illness. Living on Svalbard has clear effects for the health and well-being of the main characters in both novels. Another fundamental theme is how individuals fit into a larger context. These themes are important also today, when discussing for instance access to health care in remote areas (such as Svalbard), or when exploring the international presence on Svalbard from a geopolitical perspective.


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How to Cite

Wæhler, Turid Austin. 2022. “Health Through the Space Lens: Fictional Representations of Health and Illness in Svalbard’s Mining Towns in the 1950s”. Poljarnyj vestnik 25 (1):51–71.



Articles (peer reviewed)