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Crushing on Iceland and Another Interesting Author

First off, I can’t believe that I managed to leave Hallgrimur Helgason off of yesterday’s list of contemporary Icelandic authors. His novel 101 Reykjavik was published a few years back by Scribner, and was also made into a movie. The book of his that always sounded most interested to me though is The Author of Iceland. Here’s a description Daniel Mandel once sent me:

The Author of Iceland, winner of the 2001 Icelandic Literature Prize, is about a writer named Einar Grimsson, who is a character based on the great Icelandic writer Halldor Laxness. The novel begins with Einar in old age, who one day wakes up to discover he is now living in one of his own novels. Grimsson slowly becomes younger as the novel progresses, and his life is explored in reverse—falling in love, embracing Stalinist ideologies, and trying to make good on the mistakes of his own life. But Grimsson can’t change fate, and soon realizes that he is trapped in his own novel, and fiction is no different than life.

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Rounding out my week of posts about Iceland, here’s the article I wrote for Publishing Perspectives on the Festival and the recent interest in Icelandic fiction:

Although Iceland has had some very notable cultural exports — Halldor Laxness, Bjork, and Sigur Ros among them — last fall’s spectacular economic collapse probably brought more attention to this island nation than any other event in its modern history. One year later, the financial sector may still be recovering, but its literary scene is thriving.

“Our goal is to get people to have a crush on Iceland and Icelandic literature.” That’s how Agla Magnúsdóttir — the director of the Icelandic Literature Fund, and one of the organizers of the Reykjavik International Literary Festival — described last week’s series of readings, interviews, and other cultural events.

Dozens of writers from both Iceland and abroad participated in the festival, including Gyrðir Elíasson, Kristín Ómarsdóttir, Yrsa Sigurðardóttir, Steinar Bragi, Thor Vilhjálmsson (all from Iceland), Naja Marie Aidt (Denmark), Michael Ondaatje (Canada), David Sedaris (U.S.), Jesse Ball (U.S.), Henning Ahrens (Germany), and Ngugi wa Thiong’o (Kenya).

The events were very well attended, which shouldn’t be that surprising, considering there’s been increased sales of Icelandic fiction in the domestic market. Most publishers figured that in a time of great economic upheaval, self-help and nonfiction would dominate the best-seller lists, but instead, it seems that most Icelandic readers are looking for an escape. According to Úa Matthíasdóttir of Forlagið-Iceland’s largest trade publisher — there was a surge in sales for fiction last Christmas that went against conventional wisdom.

Click here for the whole thing, and click here for a video interview with Kristján B. Jónasson, the President of the Icelandic Publishers Association about the future of publishing in Iceland.



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