Posts Tagged ‘Arnaldur Indriðason’

Reykjavik for book lovers? Who knew? Now you’ll know why…

Monday, December 31st, 2018
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Our well-traveled journalist-photographer Zygmunt Malinowski, at Solheimjokull glacier.

A guest post from our roving photographer Zygmunt Malinowski, this time reporting from Iceland, which he visited over the summer. (All photos are copyrighted by him, of course, and used with permission.)

Who knew that Iceland’s cosmopolitan capital is designated as a UNESCO “City of Literature”? UNESCO looks at several criteria for the tag: quality, quantity, diversity of publishing; the range of libraries and bookstores; its literary events.

Jules Verne’s Snaefellsjokul volcano.

During the cool mostly drizzly summer of 2018, Reykjavik’s main street, Laugavegur, is full of strolling foreigners and locals stopping at one of its many cafes, restaurants, bars and shops. Several chain bookshops are available here, too. Many of the visitors are backpackers heading out to experience this exotic land of “Ice and Fire,” In fact Jules Verne’s well-researched 1864 novel Journey to the Center of the Earth was inspired by this region’s volcanic landscape. Its characters descend into the bowels of the earth.

One way to see Reykjavik is to take a literary walking tour. I booked the one offered by the City Library called “Dark Deeds.” Its theme was crime fiction and ghoulish stories (i.e., Scandinavian Noir). The intention “was not to give an historical overview of literature in Reykjavik but rather to give a small sample of the varied works set in the city…. This walk takes the participant to several locations in the city center for viewing a world connected to both older and contemporary Icelandic literature, although the emphasis is on recent compositions.”

Gathering for “Dark Deeds” next to Gröndal House.

We visited eight sites, and two young men, Salvar and Guttormur, gave a brief introduction and a short reading from each author’s work at each stop. A visit to the harbor revisited a story of a luxury yacht with no passengers crashing into the harbor – a mystery thriller and international best seller, 2014’s The Silence of the Sea by Irsa Sigurðarsdóttir (translated by Victoria Cribb). A nondescript building, formerly a hospital during the 1918 Spanish flu, recalled a detective, a young inspector “drawn into the underworld of the city” in 2015’s  Reykjavik Nights by Arnaldur Indriðason (also translated by Victoria Cribb). At Briet Square, we learned about Gerður Kristný an award-winning author, a former journalist and editor-in-chief of literary monthly, who wrote “Drápa” (a form of skaldic poetry) about a senseless murder based on a real crime. Its an epic novel in verse, which takes its form from old Norse poetry and its mood from modern crime.” An excerpt from the 2018 book:

Snowflakes floated
onto the pavement

The city vanished
overcome by night
into drifting snow

Rabid winds
besieged the town
sent downpours down
to its very core

The winter war
had begun

City-dwellers
ran for shelter

(Translated by Rory McTurk.)

Benedikt Grondal’s notebooks

A more cheerful site was the home of Benedict Gröndal (1826-1907) – a writer, poet, teacher, illustrator of Icelandic birds, translator of Iliad, autobiographer, and natural scientist. His love of nature was one of his strongest characteristics. He was one of the founders of Natural History Society of Iceland and became its first director. His autobiography Dægradvöl (Pastime) is considered one of the classics of Icelandic literature known for it historical value, satire and sincerity.

Inside renovated Gröndal House which was relocated and now is open to the public, on one of the panels there is a quote. The author muses about his legacy when he addresses the future reader:

“I hope dear guest that you will give yourself time to dwell at this window into my life and works. What you will see here is of course no proportion to my body of work, but I hope you will at the end send some warm thoughts my way and give praise to the works I so exerted myself to creating. Many of them were never appreciated by certain people during my time.”

Info column at Grondal House.

One of the amusing poems read at the home, “To Bother,” was popular as a song several years ago. In English translation’:

 

To Bother (Nenni)

I don’t always read I can’t always be bothered to read
I do n’t always bother writing I can’t always be bothered to write
I don’t always paint I can’t always be bothered to paint
what do I bother then? so what can i be bothered to do?

I always love to love I always bothered to love
I always bother to drink
I always bothered to drink I always bother to dream I can always be bothered to dream
something I bother then so I can be bothered to do something

 

Gröndal House in Reykjavik.

According to statistics, Icelanders are avid readers and it is said that one in ten here is an aspiring writer. Having seen only a few folks reading books, I asked the librarian and the National and University Library located at the nearby University of Iceland campus. He confirmed that Icelanders are readers – but mostly at home. Then he added that he also would like to write a book.

He also pointed out that Icelanders can read the ancient Viking sagas in the original language. Because of Iceland’s isolation their language did not change as much as it did as in other Scandinavian countries. The sagas – narrative prose – have an important role in Icelandic literature and are still widely read. They are valued by literary experts for their clear style, originality and uniqueness, which was hundreds of years ahead of its time in Europe (the Gaelic language would be a notable exception, however).

 

Reykjavik across the city lake.

At Gröndal House (his illustrated book of Icelandic birds is in the case)

National and University Library at University of Icelabd.