Icelandophiles often go years without a new novel to keep them busy, but the next few months offer good reading—and good news—for those of us who need our fix of Icelandic fiction.
Iceland native and D.C.-area resident Solveig Eggerz recently published her debut novel, Seal Woman, the story of a German artist who flees to rural Iceland after World War II. It’s an honest and disquieting book, and Eggerz poses hard questions: How do you rebuild your life after war has destroyed it? How do you reconcile your new family with the ghosts of the past? Based on the experiences of more than 300 German women who answered newspaper ads for farm laborers, Seal Woman is a rarity—a work of literary fiction that isn’t over-written—and deserves a wider audience. Read the first chapter of Seal Woman at the Bit-o-Lit archive, learn more about Solveig Eggerz at her Web site, or order the book from Amazon.
Back in 2004, Vintage published the first English translation of Iceland’s Bell, Halldor Laxness’s dark, funny novel about his homeland’s most squalid era. (One of the book’s great characters is a fictionalized version of Arni Magnusson, the antiquarian who rescued most of Iceland’s medieval manuscripts from ruin.) The same translator, Philip Roughton, has filled another gap in the English-language canon of Iceland’s only Nobel laureate with The Great Weaver of Kashmir, one of Laxness’s earlier novels. Roughton’s translation comes out in October.
American Icelandophiles will also enjoy the Inspector Erlendur Mysteries, which prove that you can set police procedurals in a country with hardly any murder. The third book, Voices, comes out in paperback in the U.S. next week. The first two novels, Jar City and Silence of the Grave, were unusually eloquent and beautiful examples of the genre—and were nicely translated by the late Bernard Scudder.
Finally, check out Icelandic Online, a free online language course from the University of Iceland. Create a login and conquer the first level, which consists of 45 hours of instruction. Completing the course is the main prerequisite for the university’s new Master’s program in Medieval Icelandic Studies. What’s Icelandic for, “So, just how ambitious are you?”