The latest in our series of English-translated Icelandic books, old and new, looks at ‘The Swan’ and ‘Children in Reindeer Woods’.
Guðbergur Bergsson – The Swan
In his 1991 classic ‘The Swan’, Guðbergur Bergsson immerses himself in the perspective of a child—a nine-year-old girl sent to live at a farm as punishment for shoplifting. The girl is still developing her physical senses as well as her sense of morality and being, which is reflected in the novel’s sparse yet lyrical language. Cast adrift from all familiar surroundings, she tries to use her meagre tools of perception to understand her own actions as well as those of the unresponsive adults that surround her, finally choosing to retreat into myth and imagination instead. This slim novel is a rewarding read that, according to Milan Kundera, “breathes the Icelandic landscape from every line.” A new Icelandic film based on the novel is due to be released in 2017.
Kristín Ómarsdóttir – Children in Reindeer Woods
With its lyricism, detached narration and mystifying war-zone setting, this fable on the absurdities of war bears witness to Kristín’s extensive career as both a poet and a playwright. After a dispassionate massacre that claims the lives of everyone around her, an eleven-year-old girl named Billie is forced to live as a daughter to one of the soldiers responsible. He claims to want to swap his life of soldiering for a peaceful existence as a farmer and wants her to accompany him in this idyllic pursuit, even forcing her at gunpoint to play with her dolls like a normal child despite their abnormal situation. Gradually he starts to take on the role of her guardian, displacing her absent parents and creating a true sense of family and home for the two of them, though he still must occasionally resort to murder to reinforce their isolation.
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