Published January 18, 2018
A couple of years after the economic crash in 2008, it wasn’t unusual for people to find in their news feed at least one article regarding “the bankers jailed by the Icelandic people.” Soon, as the interest in this remote island of the North grew, they were followed by articles that described Iceland as a green, liberal paradise of fun-loving, hippie-dippy folks with no race/gender/class/environment-based issues.
It took quite a long time to debunk some of these myths, perhaps because people who don’t live in Iceland desperately need to believe that Utopia can exist. But what makes these myths exist in the first place?
For writer Fjalar Sigurðarson, it’s a matter of language, and his latest book ‘The Dark and Bright Side of Iceland’ explores the stories and myths about the country that you’ve heard many a times and those you never thought could be true. Fjalar’s sense of humour will grab your attention, with his jokes about the Icelandic people and their undecipherable, fusional language. However, it’s his taste for deconstruction that will make your jaw drop.
His book, in fact, is not simply a recollection of jests and stories. Instead, it’s an account of this country’s relationship with its own people and with the outside world—“a reflection on the ‘island mentality’ that Icelanders seem burdened with,” Fjalar says of ‘The Dark Side’. “Having an isolated country and even an isolated language makes it possible for islanders to maintain weird ideas and belief systems that really can’t withstand the test of global and logical scrutiny.” In particular when it comes to politics, Fjalar seems to think that it’s only by expressing an outrageous concept in another language such as English that one is able to truly understand the dysfunctional relationship Icelanders have with the truth.
That’s not to say that all the stories you’ve heard were wrong or simply made up. What Fjalar does is simply unveil the truth beneath it or, as he clarifies, simply give his opinion on historical events (like the hilarious reaction of Hitler’s ambassador upon seeing the valiant Icelandic people) as well as on language jokes.
Fjalar first got the idea when he was working in PR, welcoming clients from abroad and giving them tours of the countryside. “Some stories and jokes I said were well received while others were harder for them to understand,” Fjalar says. In the end, he adds, “I think tourists are just like you and I me. They are big and small, fat or slim, silly and intelligent, and that means that some of them are certainly interested in more than just pretty postcards. And this book is a good way to start knowing more.”
Fjalar’s honesty in looking at his own country, as well as a touch of self-deprecation, is exactly what makes this little book such an enjoyable read. Every concept is deconstructed in a way that you can’t help but laugh a little as you jump back and forth from page to page. And if you need a break from ‘The Dark Side,’ on the flipside ‘The Bright Side of Iceland’ is light and fluffy, with thoughts and ideas to ponder and smile about.
If you want to find way through the maze of confusing and mysterious information about Iceland with a little playfulness and a healthy dose of scepticism, Fjalar’s book is available on Forlagið.is