Storm Birds by Einar Kárason

Storm Birds by Einar Kárason

Icelandic fiction

Original title –  Stormfuglar,

Translator  – Quentin Bates

Source – Personal copy

It been over a year since I have reviewed an Icelandic novel which is a shame as it is one of those countries that most of the books in translation I have read over the time of the blog I have enjoyed. This book when it arrived appealed I am a fan of films that deal with the weather and the sea the likes of Perfect storm or the finest hour to name two. So when I read that this is based on actual events that happened in 1959 and the events that lead to a number of boats getting in trouble. The book is written by Einar Kárason. He has been writing since the late seventies his debut novel from 1981 was also translated into English as Devils island. He has since he has written over fifteen more novels this came out in 2018.

When the young deckhand Larus had said farewell to his parentrs and waved as the willys drove away, he went up Mavur’s gangplank.He went to the heelhouse and reported to the first mate who was there, who told him that he crew beginning to turn up and everything was almost read, sh he should go and find himself a berth in the deck crew’s quarter,  forward under the whaleback; he could then get himself a cup of coffee from the galley Larus carried his kitbag accross gthe deck, opened an iron dorr andf then another one beyond it, and made his way down a couple of steps. There were two cabins, and from both came loud voices, drunken talk and clouds of tobacco smoke, and Larus wondered whether he dar go in there

Larus arrives on the boat and sees the old sea dogs bel;ow deck.

Storm birds is told about the crew of the trawler Mávur which in which we are told the event of late February in 1959 as the fishing trawlers head from Iceland to the fishing grounds around the Grand banks just off Newfoundland. This was also the setting for the film and book The Perfect storm. The events of the voyage to fish is told by a young man Larus a young man of just 18 that is sent of by his parents although when his fellow crewmates arrive he gets embarrassed by them as they are a collection of salty seadogs and he is the new boy. The skipper has them knocking the ice of the boat as the weather starts turning to freeze the boats as the weather worsens we see the harshness of the sea that cruel sea of Monserrat as he had described it during the war years. So as they reach the fishing grounds but as it comes clear the boat and others around them are in distress they work  22 hours a day just trying to get through any downtime is spent forgetting the weather as at one point Larus talks about the books they are reading the radio Operator book chest were he finds war stories and biographies. another is reading Laxness. The story is on the edge as we find if they all make it as they try to get out of the weather back to the safety of Harbour. The events show how they dealt with the conditions as they find out what happens to the fellow fishermen on their boats just voice in the distant some too far away to help.

Larus continued to turn the pages of his book of maritime diasters when ever he had time to read, and its accounts became all the more horric because he knew they had been so close to such a tragedy.

The mess was often busy with card games in the evenings, and sometimes they played poker for matches or cigarettes.Some of the crew lounged around reading the various contents of the radio operator’s book chest – biographies, war stories; one of the engineers was reading Laxness, Iceland’s Nobel Prizer Winners, and would occasionally shake with silent laughter

Larus describes what they do in the free time on the boat.

This is almost a thriller as the tension is always there from their setting off but it is soon the men against the weather as the waves rage and the ice forms as the temperature sinks down. That is what is handled so well in the book is the conditions from the struggle keeping the ruining parts of the boat’s free so they can carry on. and struggle this is the classic of man’s battle with the elements that we have seen before from those North Atlantic convoys of “The Cruel Sea ” to the comradeship and battling spirit of the fishermen in The perfect storm as we see how a crew battle with nature itself and we find the true power of nature. This is a short book but full of colour and works in English as the translator brings the colour and conditions of the voyage to life. If you like an adventurous man against nature books then this is one for you. Have you a favorite book in that genre?

 

 

4 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Lisa Hill
    Dec 14, 2020 @ 22:52:13

    What a coincidence… I’ve just finished reading Sagaland which is a memoir of Iceland, a place I know nothing about…

    Reply

  2. Anokatony
    Dec 15, 2020 @ 00:45:10

    I have read three novels by Halldor Laxness who I consider one of the finest 20th century fiction writers. Besides him, I have read no other Icelandic fiction, although I expect Iceland is a very literary country.

    Reply

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