Skip to main content

Iceland, your books I must read

Everything I've read about Iceland makes me think it's not really my culinary destiny (puffin breast? whale battered anything? cod, cod and more cod?), but I can't get quite enough of its literature.  And while walking into a bookstore sometimes overwhelms me with the possibilities, the sad but convenient fact is that there is relatively little icelandic literature translated into a language I can read, and even less of it available at the library.  Which still leaves a sizable chunk of reading available to me, but it's much less than a whole bookstore, so it feels almost manageable.  Here are my thoughts of three I've read so far:



The Blue Fox, by Sjon (there's supposed to be an apostrophe above the o, but for the life of me I can't figure out how to get it there)

This dreamy book is a pocket-sized delight.  The beginning reads a bit like poetry with its creative use of white space, and indeed Sjon also has several poetry collections.  It's the story of a fox, a priest and a dead woman and the backdrop is an expanse of icy white Iceland.  Reading it reminded me of the magic in George MacDonald's writing.  The line between realism and magic seems almost pointless in the middle of an endless winter night full of avalanches.

Last Rituals, by Yrsa Sigurdardottir (same story here with the o)

This juicy story had me so captivated I couldn't wait to get back to it.  It reads a little like an Icelandic The Da Vinci Code, but I like Yrsa a whole lot more than I like Dan Brown (for starters, she apparently wrote 5 children's novels before this book and happens to be a hydro civil engineer, which is all just quite fascinating).  It's a detective story, and the murder in question has some super dark things going on with it.  This would be an excellent read for a long plane ride or a weekend of reading.

Both The Blue Fox and Last Rituals (as well as The Greenhouse by Audur Ava Olafsdottir, which I started but didn't finish) made me think about works in translation.  For one thing, I don't really feel I can say anything about the quality of the writing, because what I am reading has been filtered through a translator and their very particular word choices.  For instance, in The Greenhouse, the word "violet" turns up about 7 times in the first 15 pages.  There are other words to describe that color, and as it didn't seem at all to be an intentional choice that somehow furthered the story, I found myself really distracted.    All that to say, while I don't feel I can really say whether the writing is strong or not (though I suspect it is), I do feel confident that the stories in each of these are quite rich.

Meltdown Iceland, by Roger Boyes

Okay, so this one is not written by an Icelander.  But it's a fantastic take on the financial meltdown experienced by Iceland, for its own sake as well as a study for ways of understanding the financial crisis in general for the rest of us.  The writing is so deliciously perfect creative non-fiction: highly factual, but chock full of the story behind the data.  The human drama and life-long feuds are so well described that it makes something as enormous as an entire country going bankrupt understandable.  I never really pick up an economics book with any sort of enthusiasm, generally because I assume I won't be able to really appreciate what's going on in it. But this one was so good I want to read it again.  And while I still can't quite wrap my mind around how we came to be in our current recession (it's like I have a subprime mortgage beta blocker in my brain), I now have a much more human perspective on the players who helped it be, at least those in Iceland.  More than that though, I feel like I gained a perspective on a people through an economic lens that was compassionate, informed and ultimately hopeful.  

These three are headed back to the library today, and I'm jotting down my list of the next ones to check out.  As my pocket book likes to say, thank goodness for libraries!

Comments

  1. Years ago I read "Independent People" by Halldor Laxness - epic and brutal at times, but a really strong lovely work that has stayed with me.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I loved Independent People! The whole time I was reading it, I craved coffee (and it's a longish book, so there was a lot of coffee craving going on). They were always drinking strong cups of coffee in every scene. I've been meaning to read some more of his work. Thanks for the suggestion!

      Delete
  2. p.s. Dan (the boyfriend) is awesome and just showed me how to add the ö using Lion (I'm a little behind on my big cats installations, and Lion is brand new to me). I feel very powerful now and will be using lots of umlauts in the future.

    ReplyDelete

Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

For Mom, Twenty-One Years Later

I lost my mom twenty-one years ago today. She died from complications related to a long battle with chronic-progressive multiple sclerosis. I was a week away from turning twenty-one. Which means I have not had her as long as I did have her.
It used to make me unique among my friends, to have lost a parent at such a young age. But I’m no longer young and many friends have joined this depressing club. The dues are astronomical and no one prepares refreshments.
People, moms are important. Don’t let anyone tell you differently. Whether you were once a child or are currently a mom. They are the sun, moon, and stars, even when they are completely obscured by darkness.
I wish she mattered less. She doesn’t. She matters more than almost anything: that first hit of love, that childhood sense of safety, that initial understanding of what it means to be a woman in the world: mom.



Memory is funny when it comes to dead people: I can remember her any way I want. Which means I can also mis-remem…

The Thankful List

I make a decent attempt at gratitude on the regular, but I love how this season makes me think about it specifically. Even in the midst of all the holiday hoopla and the days of generalized anxiety we currently live in, there are genuine reflections of thankfulness everywhere. Way more so than say Valentine's day prompting people to really reflect on their love for someone. I've been keeping a list in my notes app on my phone to record the things that are currently immense suppliers of joy in my life. Here's an incomplete list:

My dental hygienist.
This is not a product placement disguised as gratitude. This is my genuine, heartfelt gratitude for a woman I see every six months who I have complete trust in, and who makes an otherwise unpleasant experience as humane and awesome as possible. Yes, yes, my dentist is also great. Absolutely. But making a teeth cleaning a pleasant experience is a gift not many hygienists possess. It's a combo of demeanor, the exact right amou…

You Are Not Alone

You Are Not Alone

If you still haven’t found your sea legs in this new reality You are not alone
If you check your privilege while wondering how You are not alone
If your empathy is worn down by 3pm each day You are not alone
If you’re terrified by normalizing this but desire stabilization You are not alone
If you haven’t figured out how to talk to your family about this new reality You are not alone
If you want to post something flippant to social media and feel guilty about it not being political enough You are not alone
If you can’t figure out how to talk about this morning’s tragedy and by the time you do everyone else is raging about the next thing You are not alone
If you are often paralyzed and enraged by your own paralysis You are not alone
If you wish you could go back to the good old days of 2015 You are not alone
If you loathe being so lazy You are not alone <