Each issue, we take a look at two Icelandic titles old and new, available in English translation at most Reykjavík bookstores. If you’d like more ideas, or to read more on Icelandic literature, head over to gpv.is/lit for in-depth author interviews, guides, and more book reviews.
Jón Gnarr – The Indian
In this short and bittersweet literary autobiography, Jón Gnarr, an Icelandic comedian and former mayor of Reykjavík, recounts his formative years as a child oddity that no one—not his aging parents, nor the staff of the psych ward where he was sent as a child on suspicion of being mentally deficient—knew what to do with. Saddled with the entire package (ADHD, dyslexia and red hair), the young Jón soon found himself unable to fit in among his peers at a time when learning difficulties were considered little more than proof of genetic stupidity. The tone is humorous, despite some of the bleaker experiences it relates, and refreshingly free of animosity to the peers and authority figures responsible for his ostracisation, while maintaining a healthy dislike for inhumane governmental systems unwilling to adjust themselves to the needs of those that fall outside the norm.
Einar Már Guðmundsson – The Angels of the Universe
Winner of the Nordic Council’s Literary Prize in 1995, ‘Angels of the Universe’ is still taught in Icelandic elementary schools today due to its concise language and startling vision into the lives of those who walk among us carrying the burden of schizophrenia and other mental diseases. The main character, Páll, narrates his whole life, from birth and a happy childhood through his teen years, when the disease first starts showing, to his joining the hordes of people who spend their lives in and out of mental institutions, never truly receiving the resources they need but merely being confined and drugged to relieve their families of the burden of their care. The true strength of this harsh yet beautiful novel is Páll’s voice as he narrates his life with charm—even humor—and blunt sincerity.
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