If you want the joy of reading a piece of Icelandic literature without the hassle of learning Icelandic, here are two English-translated books that are a great place to start.
Arnaldur Indriðason – Jar City
Published in the year 2000, ‘Jar City’ was an outrider for the explosion of Icelandic crime novels which hold such a prominent place in the country’s publishing industry today. It wasn’t the first Icelandic crime novel, nor was it the first appearance of the author’s most famous character—the sour-faced Detective Erlendur, who had already taken the lead in two novels that remain unavailable in English. However, this novel is where Arnaldur found his stride, inserting the crime fiction genre into Icelandic culture with a tightly wound plot, strong characters, and a cold and succinct writing style that echoes the grittiness and attention to detail of Derek Raymond.
Andri Snær Magnason – Dreamland: A Self-Help Manual for a Frightened Nation
Published just before the financial crash in 2007, ‘Dreamland’ arrived at a crucial time in Iceland’s history. Icelanders were in the midst of an identity crisis after the collapse of their economy—it was a time of immediate historical revisionism, when everyone was searching for a simple scapegoat or explanation for the country’s position at the centre of the worldwide financial meltdown. Through essays tackling topics such as environmentalism, local politics and more, the book sets out to explore the state of the recently urbanised Icelander and their connection to their nation, to nature, to other Icelanders, and the rest of the world. The results are a profound document that explores a difficult time, still so close to the present that viewing it in perspective is a hefty chore.
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