Red Milk by Sjón

Red Milk by Sjón

Icelandic fiction 

Original title – Korngult hár, grá augu

Translator – Victoria Cribb

Source – Personal copy

Well I know head up to Iceland and to an old friend of the blog a writer who I have reviewed three times before here but it has been five years since I reviewed a book by Sjón. I have Codex 1962 on my tbr that I was kindly sent by a twitter friend but this jumped out at me and I alway love a novella a book that can be read in the evening which his other books have tend to be. He has a way of drawing the reader into the world he is writing in the after word to this book he said he had touched on Nazisim in two previous books so decided to look at what made some one get drawn into the far right world.

The other policeman is holding a notebook. In it , he writes in pencil ” Blond hair, grey eyes“,below which he produces a deft sketch of the body and the railway compartment.

The policeman who had finished going through the dead man’s pockets turns to his colleague and shakes his head. They both look out of the carraige window. A small crowd has gathered on the platform to watch what what is happening inside the compartment. Neither officer noticed the three men in black shirts hurrying away from the train and disappearing into the station building

The end of the opening chapter and gunnars men in black shirts where there.

The drawing into the far right world that sjon based the book on follows the life of Gunnar Kampen the book opens in 1962 at cheltenham station as he is found dead on a train, but who are the men on the platform of the staion wearing the black shirts. This  part of the book  is were the Icelandic title of the book is from as he is described as Gunnar is described as  Blond hair, grey eyes. That is how it opens then we are drawn back to his youth and find out how he ended up on the path he did and dead in that train and this starts at the second world war in iceland listening to all that was going on from his fathers radio. But when events in Norway change he ends up meeting his aunt he hair had been shaved of and his uncle is in prison this is how he gets drawn into the far right world. This is where Sjon uses a number of real life well known far right figures in the post war era and there attempts to set up a world wide Nazi network. He use Gunnar trip down this poath showing how this young boy get drawn in bit by bit then when he discovers Savitir Devi and writes to him he gets further into the far right world.til he is on a train in the Uk to meet some men in Black shirts and deeper into the world wide net of Nazis.

Icelander take great interest in the affairs of their brother nation, There are a larger number of Norweigans living here,as well of people of Norwegian descent like us, Every year, books are published about recent events, there are talks aon the radio and plays staged. Ofically, they all toe the same lie. Recently, I was meeting of a current affairs club I belong to, where the topic of the day was Norway. A fter the meeting had finished, a man (O.P), who had known you kn Oslo came over to talk to me. He told me where you were, why you were there and how many years you had left.

As his family come back from Norway he gets the first onnection to the far rigtht world via his Uncle and what he did in Norway!

 

This is part Bildungsroman and part thriller and also part cautionary tale. Sjón weaves a web around Gunnar so he ends up like a fly trapped in the web of Nazism as it gabs him bit by bit how easy it can be for a normal boy like Gunnar  can get caught up in this world. It is insoired by one of the real life leaders of the Red milk an Icelandic right wing group. The book is about how people fall down the rabbit holes it is what Sjon wanted to do and that is find how this happens we don’t get a full explination to what it is makes people do this but an insight into one mans world. It is most of all a cautionary tale of gunnars life. He use a number of different styles of writing epistolary, historic novel, thriller and mystery. If you have read his earlier books this will appeal to you ! Have you a favourite read from Sjón ?

Winstons score – B An interesting novella of how the far right can draw people in. a cautionary tale.

Under the Glacier by Halldór Laxness

Under the Glacier by Halldór Laxness

Icelandic fiction

Original title – Kristnihald undir Jökli

Translator – Magnus Maagnusson

Source – personal copy

I have featured a number of Icelandic writers of the years. But had yet to feature their Nobel-winning writer Laxness won the prize in 1955. Even though I have six of his books on my shelves so I decided it was about time and I choose this one of the six I had as it seemed different from the others. Laxness wrote for nearly 60 years this is a later book he called a visionary novel. He is best known for Independent people he wrote in various styles over the years. There was a film made of his book.

The bishop handed me a dog-eared scrap of paper that could hardly have come through the post; it looked as if it had been carried from farm to farm and shuffled from pocket to pocket through many districts. Nonethe less, the letter evinced a mental attitude, if you could call it that, which has more to it than meet the ye and which expresses the logic of the place where it belongs but has little validity anywhere else , perhaps, the bishop rattled on while I ran my eye over the letter: And then he’s said to have allowed anglers and foreigners to knock then he’s said to have allowed angler and foreigners to knock up some monstrosity of a building pratically on top of the church – tell him from me to have it pulled down at once!

The Embi sees the letter that lead to his task.

The book follows the sending of a young emissary from the Bishop of Iceland to the pastor of Snaefells Glacier as there have been reports that pastor Jon has been a strange course. The Bishop tells the young man of the glacier and its connection to the Verne book and it has an entrance to the centre of the earth. He wants to find out what is going on he tells the young man just blend in talk with the locals about the weather and gently find out what is going on. So from then on our unnamed emissary is called the Embi he arrives at the glacier finds a church not just run down but also nailed shut by order of the Pastor. He starts to talk to the locals as he discovers how they view what is going on. Why has Jon start being a sort of odd job man and they feel the glacier is now the centre of the world we know it. There is a feel of them all become like a bunch of new-age hippies. While the Embi get to the bottom of what has happened, will he see the truth through the lies he was told to listen to both by the Bishop as he said in the lies he may see more than the little titbits of truth there is a lot of mystery in this book there is a sense of something looming behind the enigmatic Pastor Jon and his wife as the Embi unpicks everything bit by bit?

It’s appropriate here to make a long story short.

Yopur emissary, however, doesn’t wish to delay giving a summary of the tales thart have lived here in this past of the land since time immemorial about a mysteryious women: sometimes gthis woman, sometimes a multide. Sometimes this women has taken the form of somerather disagreeable luggage. Tumi jonsen has now started to tell the icelandic sags in a style that consists principally of casting doubt on the story being told, making no efforts to describe things, skating past the main points, excusing the main characters for performing deeds thart will live as long as the world endures, erasing their faces if possible but wiping them clean, just in case. Therefore it never becomes a story, at best just a subject for a poem. The women carry on with their scrubbing. This was a long morning.

The locals are changing the facts

This is one of those books that has you laughing in one bit as this bizarre outland of Iceland and it locals with there views from the Pastor and his clerk then we start pondering what is going on in the glacier. The style of the book is in reports and dialogue of the interviews he does with locals. As the dead bodies, aren’t getting buried and the talk about being the centre of the world what is happening? What I loved was the collection of local oddballs he meets as he tries to discover what is going on for the Bishop. As Susan Sontag says this book could be sci-fi at times, comic or as Laxness called it visionary novel it is one of those books that has so much more it seems that some of the things that happened in the book are partly based on the actual pastor in the first half of the twentieth century. We view one of those strange community that is cut off from the rest of the world. Have you read any books from Laxness ?

Icelandic Nobel Quartet

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s rarely you come accross such a great second hand find as I did the other day, when I found four of the old Vintage international books from the Icelandic writer Halldor Laxness. I have three other books from him on my shelves and had intend to try and read one of them for the blog this year at some point so the addition of three more is a welcome bonus. The Four books are –

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Paradise reclaimed – a farmer from a small farm goes in search of the promised land of Utah as he takes his wife and two children on a disastrous journey.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Iceland Bell follows a man who happened to make a bawdy joke about the Danish King in the 17th Iceland under the rule of Denmark. He becomes a fugitive .

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A young Emissary from the Bishop of Iceland is sent to snaefells glacier to find out what is going on and finds a community that thinks it is the center of the world. and creation is a work in progress.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A lonely Orphan who wants to become a poet we follow his affairs poverty, loneliness and the scandals he becomes involved in.

A great haul and I love the simple cover art in the series as well.

Fish have no feet by Jon Kalman Stefansson

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Fish have no feet by Jon Kalman Stefansson

Icelandic Fiction

Original title – Fiskarnir hafa enga fætur

Translator – Philip Roughton

Source – Review copy

So I reach the final post of this years Man Booker journey , with one of my favourite writers and a writer that has been on the longlist for the old iffp . Jon Kalman Stefansson is another of those talent Icelandic writers. This is also the first time he has tackled a more modern-day Iceland than before in his books the earlier two I reviewed were from his trilogy Heaven and Hell and The sorrow of angels . Like his earlier book it also involves family and  but in a more personnel way than before.

I mean no disrespect , but ari is the only person who could have dragged me back here , across  the expanse of black lava that ground to a painful halt hundreds of years ago, naked in places, but elsewhere moss has softened and soothed it, clothed it in silence and serenity; you drive out of Reykjavik past the long aluminium smelter and into the lava, which at first is an old scream , and then moss-covered silence .

Ari returns to a changed place with his friend !!

This is a journey into the heart of what is modern Iceland told through two generations of the same icelandic family . The first is Ari in the present but also his childhood years  on the seventies and eighties . He has arrived home from Copenhagen and  is remembering his childhood in the town of Keflavik , a town that is home to the huge Us airbase NASKEF that was in use til 2005 , this also had like many airbases there is a ripple effect this is seen through Ari memories of his childhood of trying to grow up in the Iceland of the day which wasn’t the one we know but on the way and being tinged by America .Then Nordfjordur is the setting for the second tale a small fishing village cling to the land and the story of Ari grandparents is a tragic love story . This is juxtaposed by the modern marriage of their grandson. This is a story of nation that has changed so much in two generations .

We walk past the january 1976 bar , from which two middle-aged woman emerge , lighting cigarettes before the door shuts behind them, shuts on Rod Stewart singing “Maggie May” inside, It’s evening and we’re tipsy from the red wine and whisky we drank at the hotel and we walk down Hafnargata street, which is far tidier now than in the past, when we first walked down it with Asmundur ; Mayor Sigurjon has done a good job cleaning things up.

I liked this passage as it was as thou past, present we’re one leading me to think the narrator wasn’t in the present just the past !

Now it is hard not to see Ari in some part as being a veiled version of the writer himself , there is points when he talks about the eighties and growing up the music he listen to you feel him looking at his own collection of music and life , Like Ari Jon Kalman spent time in Denmark and also grew up in Keflavik. He has managed to writer a semi biographical novel using Ari but not as ari but more as a friend of him that is the narrator of the story, I was reminded of tv shows of recent years that use a detached voice as the narrator for the series , especially the recent netflix series thirteen reason why  which like this recounts past events in the present. Also Desperate housewives   where the whole series was told by a woman who was dead at the beginning of the book.Is this unnamed narrator an actual person or a lost friend of Ari that is long gone. In some ways this is maybe his answer to the likes of Knausgaard writing less of rooting in ones own past and pouring it on the page for every one to read no this is a carefully picked version of his history and how it feels to return home and remember what you like because the black side is there but isn’t what we remember this is the sense of drawing what was best in someway in your childhood.This is more personnel than his  earlier books which means it is maybe a harder read but more accessable

Two faces Italy and Iceland march on euro 2016

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I arrived home yesterday to two books through the post . I was surprised firstly by an odd similarity in the two cover images. The first book young bride by Alessandro Barico the Italian writer follows a young women joining a noble family but as she does so she has learned secrets from each of her new family members. I have enjoyed his books before so am looking forward to this his latest in English.Then it is a real treat the next book by Jon Kalman Stefansson this book Fish have no feet is the first of his books to be set in a modern setting to be translated to english his trilogy which I enjoyed was a historic novel. This book follows a man returning to his childhood home town with memories of the music of the beatles and pink Floyd and a girl he once fell in love with. So as yesterday saw both Italian team and Iceland go forward to the next round in euro 2016 with Iceland playing England in the second round.

The sorrow of angels by Jón Kalman Stefánsson

SOrrow of angels

The sorrow of angels by Jón Kalman Stefánsson

Icelandic fiction

Original title – Harmur englanna

Translator – Philip Roughton

Source – review copy

I might have speculated on my chances of going to Heaven; but candidly I did not care. I could not have wept if I had tried. I had no wish to review the evils of my past. But the past did seem to have been a bit wasted. The road to Hell may be paved with good intentions: the road to Heaven is paved with lost opportunities.

Apsley Cherry Garrard from his book the worst journey in the world .via goodreads

Well yesterday I covered part one of this trilogy Heaven and Hell  ,so far Jón Kalman Stefánsson has written nine novels and in 2005 won the Icelandic Literature prize .Like the first in this trilogy I read this on more than one occasion the prose are very rich and need to be savoured on more than one occasion I feel .

It’s snowing .The snowflakes fill the vault of the sky and pile up on the world .The wind is gentle and drifts hold their shape ,The surface of the sea is calm and ceaselessly swallows the snow .

Weather but a little calmer than in other parts of the book .

Well I think that quote sums this book up well ,the book follows a journey taken by the still unnamed boy who was one of the main characters in the first book and Jens a postman as they seek to deliver a package for a doctor in the hinterland of Iceland .Now the boy an orphan whom in the first book lost his good friend seems a much more rounded character in this book one who because of his past has fallen in love with books .The journey sees the two battle each other and the elements around them and maybe grow to know each other from this shared journey .As they move from farm to farm to get the item delivered .

The coffee brews .

Oh, the aroma of this black drink !

Why do we have to remember it so well ;it’s been so very long , since we could drink coffee , many decades ,yet still the tast and pleasure haunts us .Our bodies were devoured to the last morsel long ago .

As a coffee lover Stefanssson often mentions coffee .

Snow ,snow ,snow ,cold ,wind this is maybe the book summed up in five words what we have here like the first book is a book is about man and his surrounds ,how we can conquer most things but the elements still even now (although this book is set a hundred years ago ) we struggle in the worst conditions to get by .Again the book is told in a collective voice ,an echo of a past gone but kept alive in these pages .The journey they are  undertaking is maybe an eternal one that man has been taken since the beginning of time  , the one that isn’t about getting there but about taking the journey .Philip Roughton has caught what I call the cold feel of the book ,I assume there is more in Icelandic about cold and cold weather but he has still managed to make you feel a real chill down your spine ,this would be a great book to read on a hot summers day as it will cool you down .This is another from this years IFFP it is on our shadow shortlist .

Have you read either of the books by this writer ?

 

Butterflies in November by Auður Ava Ólafsdóttir

butterflies in november 2

Butterflies in November by Auður Ava Ólafsdóttir

Icelandic fiction

Original title – Rigning í nóvember

Translator – Brian Fitzgibbons

Source – personnel copy on kindle

Well I was pleased I choose to buy this earlier in the year on a kindle offer as I had it at hand when it made the IFFP longlist .Auður Ava Ólafsdóttir is an art history lecturer and has previously been the director of the art museum at Iceland university .She has written four novel this is her first to be translated into English .

I provide proof-reading services and revise BA theses and articles for specialized magazines and publications on any subject. I also revise electoral speeches, irrespective of party affiliations, and correct any revealing errors in anonymous complaints and/ or secret letters of admiration, and remove any inept or inaccurate philosophical or poetic references from congratulatory speeches and elevate obituaries to a higher (almost divine) level. I am fully versed in all the quotations of our departed national poets. I translate from eleven languages both into and out of Icelandic, including Russian, Polish and Hungarian. Fast and accurate translations. Home delivery service. All projects are treated as confidential.

 

Rather perfect passage for this blog I felt ,Iceland is so much better at this than us translating .

Butterflies in November starts in the Capital of Iceland Reykjavik ,we meet the narrator ,we never know her name but this is her story .Her marriage is falling apart ,her husband leaves her as she is a little on the odd side and he can’t take her idiosyncrasies any more .So we she her go out meet new men and move to a flat .At this point it seems like it is going be a tale of a women blooming after a failed marriage .Then her pregnant friend rings up ,she has a son who is deaf and she wants her friend to take her son on for a few days but as the two start to get along her friend is ok for the two to stay together as she is worried how her son will react to the new arrival  .The son Tumi and narrator struggle at first to communicate but she draws him in and they go on a road trip round Iceland along the way discovering a number of odd characters ,the narrator still meets men ,but now with this young child her priorities have changed some what  .End up in a distant and strange Village .Tumi also helped her winner the lottery

“Can you collect Tumi from the kindergarten for me and keep him over the weekend, I don’t want to involve Mum in any of this, not yet at least, her blood pressure is far too high. The only thing you need to watch out for is his sleepwalking, he’s been known to open doors and vanish behind corners, and even to put himself in danger. Once I found him down by the lake. Just make sure you don’t startle him when he’s in that state.”

So the pairs adventure starts with this brief phone call at the start .

Now this book is just what I expect from Icelandic fiction and that is a little kooky ,this book is tinge with a bit of magic realism ,there is also a recurring motifs of insects in the depth of winter . and also at times is rather like David Lynch ,also an undercurrent to the narrators past ,she isn’t a mother part of the reason she split with her husband ,but also something bad happened in the past .This is a book about fear the narrators fear ,but discovery as she connects with Tumi and maybe finds herself in the hinterland of Iceland in a rather quirky village the narrator spent her childhood in a small portable home her family own .I found the book a page turner maybe not the best translation but part of me wonders if this is also part of the charm as the narrator is a proofreader and maybe this is to test us as a reader ?Also an epilogue of recipes.

Do you like quirky character ?

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