A Grapevine service announcement LOOK BUSY! Growing Likelihood Of Eruption At Bárðarbunga
Iceland As It Should Be

Iceland As It Should Be

Published November 22, 2011

“Is he Swiss?” asks a person in the back row. “No, I think he‘s Estonian,” replies another. The man on the stage is, as it happens, Icelandic, and is per-forming at the very underground Frankfurt anti-book fair at Café Exzess. Here, one can attend lectures about anarchist poster art and the history of anarchism in Quebec, say, while the flower of Iceland’s literati chase international publishers around like rabbits in spring in the gigantic and rather air-port-like Frankfurt Messehalle.  
Like your erstwhile journalist, [frequent Grapevine contributor] Eiríkur Örn Norðdahl plays both sides of the fence. Here he quickly captures the crowd with his peculiar brand of sound-poetry, performing rather than reading in English, Icelandic and German. Language is rendered largely irrelevant as Eiríkur stakes a claim for poetry as the music of the 21st Century, without the aid of instruments or hooks. Having seen him read for almost a decade on the Icelandic scene, it is gratifying to see him in front of a foreign audience at the top of his game. “I can see he has done a lot of slam-poetry,” says my German friend. Perhaps, but his style probably has more to do with drunken and perpetually attention deficient Icelandic audiences rather than any particular type of event.  
A Virtual Island
A few days earlier, the President of Iceland, in front of an audience that included the German Foreign Minister and the Mayor of Frankfurt, presented a portrait of Iceland as a country where the bookshelf is the centrepiece of every home. This comes as news to the group of 30-something Icelandic wri-ters who are crowded around the bar at Café Exzess and whose relatives still hope will someday get a real job. Most of them have fled a country where they never really managed to fit in, and now live among their bookshelves somewhere in Germany, in Finland, in Sweden.  
Perhaps Iceland has since its beginning, like other settler communities, been an idealised country, a country where people can see what they want to see. ‘The Saga Island’ gives other nations, tired of their own reality shows and tabloid media, an example to look to. Even if this in itself is mostly virtual.  
An imaginary haven
Maike Stommer is a doctor of Political Science who has lived in Iceland and speaks the language fluently. She tells me that while there are several people in Germany well versed in Icelandic culture and literature, she is among the few who have studied Icelandic politics which is why journalists tend to call her asking about such items as the International Modern Media Institute. Everyone loves the idea of a safe haven for investigative journalism and free speech and hence Iceland gets held up as an example to follow. Sadly, this does not necessarily reflect the facts on the ground, where journalists can and do get fined for quoting sources and even other news stories if these are deemed somehow offensive, however accurate they may be.
Icelandic literature, thankfully, fares far better than Icelandic journalism, and the country has more than its fair share of great writers. Some may not always be appreciated as well as they should be, but the book fair in Frankfurt is a welcome opportunity to celebrate Iceland’s finest. We still need so-meone to look up to, after all, and my heroes have always been writers rather than bankers.  
The beauty of reading  
During the boom, Iceland was seen by many neo-liberals as a shining example of the validity of their doctrine. After the collapse, it was seen by others as an example of its folly. The image of Iceland as a nation of entrepreneurs and financial geniuses was never an accurate one, as we now know. The image of Iceland as a nation of thoughtful readers and writers might not be entirely accurate either, but it is a far better one.  
The Icelandic exhibition room at the Frankfurt Buchmesse is widely, and probably rightly, considered the best in years. One can have a cup of coffee and sit down in an old-style sofa among the many bookshelves and pick out a copy of Laxness or Einar Kárason or, indeed, Eiríkur Örn Norðdahl, and leaf through the pages while the Geysirs and Glaciers and Lava Fields and Fosses lull by on the walls in the background, as if the entire reading room had been transported to somewhere in the highlands on an improbably warm and windless day. This might not be Iceland as it is, but certainly it is Ice-land as we would like it to be. 



Culture
Literature
<?php the_title(); ?>

Poet Tattoos Demand That Minister Resigns

by

Tuesday, August 12, 2014. Poet Bragi Páll Sigurðarson just disclosed his new tattoo. It is situated on his right thigh, just above the knee. Unlike most tattoos, this one is written in Times New Roman. One sentence, split in two lines, it reads: “Hanna Birna, segðu af þér.” That is: “Hanna Birna, resign.” Standard punctuation. The direct message is as clear-cut as the typography. The demand, of course, refers to the scandal surrounding Iceland’s Interior Minister in recent months, which has been duly covered in this paper. I caught Bragi Páll on Facebook to ask him some questions. Well, before

Culture
Literature
<?php the_title(); ?>

It’s Your Book And Your Voice

by

“Iceland is like a disease you can’t get rid of.” This from Andrew Evans, National Geographic’s ‘Digital Nomad,’ by way of introducing the locally set travel essay that he’s reading to kick off the first ever Iceland Writers Retreat.  It’s clear that he means this in a good way—Andrew first came to Iceland in 1998, has been back “dozens” of times since, and has authored a Bradt travel guide to the island. Andrew may be more familiar with Iceland than some of the other seven authors attending from Canada, the UK, and the US, but it’s clear from everyone’s introductions

Culture
Literature
<?php the_title(); ?>

Book Worms, Ahoy!

by

Nexus is Iceland’s only store dedicated to fantasy and science fiction and features a large fiction section, as well as non-fiction books on drawing, knitting, handicrafts and other hobbies. The store also has numerous aisles filled with games, DVDs, comics and just about everything else related to fandom. The store has been running in one form or another since 1992. After 18 years at Hverfisgata 103, the store relocated last August to a bigger space at Nóatún 17. Although some were disappointed that the store would no longer be in downtown Reykjavík, the new space has allowed for a wider

Culture
Literature
<?php the_title(); ?>

Butterflies In November

by

If it’s possible to claim a ‘trend’ based on what is as yet a rather small sample size, an interesting one seems to be developing in the domain of Icelandic literature in English translation. Until recently, these translations basically occupied either side of the ‘high’ literature/genre fiction spectrum—basically, Halldór Laxness and Sjón on one end and Arnaldur Indriðason and Yrsa Sigurdardóttir on the other. But the last five years have seen the area in the middle fill in a bit more, introducing English translations of absurdist quasi-sci-fi novels (Andri Snær Magnason’s ‘LoveStar’), novels dealing with Iceland’s transition from rural to

Culture
Literature
<?php the_title(); ?>

Corpse Cats And Criminals

by

Summer visitors are spoiled for choice when it comes to guided introductions to our fair capital. There are walking tours, biking tours and Segway tours. History walks and sculpture walks and mythology walks. Culinary tours and beer tours and tours promising to reveal all of Reykjavík’s hidden nooks and secret spots. But for those looking for something a little more ghoulish, the City Library is now offering its own (entirely free) take on the walking tour: Dark Deeds in Reykjavík, a meandering 90-minute constitutional which transforms the city through both bygone folklore and contemporary crime fiction. Departing every Thursday at

Culture
Literature
<?php the_title(); ?>

Silent No More

by

Gerður Krístný is an immensely prolific writer, having produced some 18 books—including poetry and short story collections, novels for adults and children, a biography and a travel narrative—since her first publication in 1994. However, she is as of yet relatively unknown to English-reading audiences. For although several international collections have anthologised her poems and short stories, it was not until Gerður won the Icelandic Literature Prize in 2010 that one of her works, the winning poetry book ‘Bloodhoof,’ was translated into English in its entirety. “I feel as though I have been writing ‘Bloodhoof’ since I was a child,” Gerður has

Show Me More!