Oddný Eir’s ‘Land of Love and Ruins’ has been translated into English and published by Restless Books, after winning the Icelandic Women’s Literature Prize and the EU Prize For Literature.
The 240-page book is an intriguing mashup of literary styles, presented as chapters timestamped by religious festivals, special occasions, phases of the moon, and the place of writing. Together, they form a flow of consciousness that dances between autobiography, diary, and personal philosophy. Along the way, Oddný muses on subjects that are disparate-seeming, and yet become wholly interconnected as she draws deft lines between friendships, love relationships and familial bonds, politics and economics, and ideas about genealogy, society, community, history and travel. By doing so in such an uninhibited fashion, ‘Land of Love and Ruins’ ultimately forms an intimate treatise on the nature of being itself.
We’re taken from the rooms of Reykjavík, to the rural settlements of Iceland, to the streets, homes and hotels of Paris, Strasbourg, Basel and London, and the villages and forests of Cumbria. Oddný confides in us as she travels, her mind wandering and whirring as she intertwines this physical journey with her internal one. We learn of her hopes, doubts, fears and dreams; her far-reaching curiosities, her difficulty reconciling a deep desire for intimacy with an urgent need for personal space, and her instinct to connect with her Icelandic roots whilst embracing the wider world in an expansive, exploratory fashion.
The intimacy of the book is one of its greatest strengths. Oddný doesn’t pull her punches, even when they’re directed at her own habits and instincts. Her willingness to reveal her innermost thoughts lends a rare level of integrity to her writing, and helps to form an empathic bond between reader and author.
The book also acts as a snapshot of Icelandic culture. When Oddný discusses the relationship between industry, environmentalism and the state, she reveals an internal conversation that’s ongoing in Iceland to this day. ‘Land of Love and Ruins’ explains better than anything I’ve read the battle for the soul of the nation, played out via kitchen table conversations that culminate in shared ideals, increased participation in the political process and straight-up activism.
Since finishing ‘Land of Love and Ruins’, I must have bought five or more copies as presents for people, and will no doubt buy many more. It’s a work that deserves to be enjoyed, remembered, and looked back upon in times to come.
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