Every bibliophile loves the combination of new pages and new places. I know I do. They say literature lets the mind travel without the body having to leave the armchair, but to be honest, I think stories are even more enjoyed when you are physically travelling through the setting of your book. So here I’ll recommend known and lesser-known books to read in my favorite holiday destinations! I just came back from a two week trip to Iceland, so this time, I’ll introduce some books for the land of fire and ice. For a country renowned for their breathtaking natural landscapes, literature may not be the first thing that comes to mind when thinking of Iceland. But the nation’s capital, Reykjavik, is a UNESCO City of Literature and it’s evident from the many bookshops and many literary events that reading fiction is definitely embedded into the national psyche.
Sjon’s The Whispering Muse
“I hear something that could best be compared with the soporific hiss of our shortwave radio receiver: as if a handful of golden sand were being shaken in a fine sieve…”
Sjon is an Icelandic literary rock star and indeed his style is unlike anything I have read before. The Whispering Muse is set on a ship in 1949, on which the second mate claims to have sailed with Jason and the Argonauts. This evokes large disbelief of our protagonist, an eccentric academic who does believe in the superiority of Nordic people because of their pescetarian diet. The author succeeds in crafting a profound novel which still remains playful. It takes the reader on a journey where mythology and reality blend together. This is an epic in miniature.
Halldor Laxness’ Independent People
“Presently the small of coffee began to fill the room. This was morning’s hallowed moment. In such a fragrance the perversity of the world is forgotten, and the soul is inspired with faith in the future…”
Laxness is the only Icelandic recipient of the Nobel prize for Literature, and he describes his country’s traditions, manners and quirks with great precision. Independent People is one of his most well known works, in which the story of an impoverished farmer trying to better his living conditions is told. Set in the early twentieth century, this is a tale about the quest for independence.
Hannah Kent’s Burial Rites
“I can turn to that day as though it were a page in a book. It’s written so deeply upon my mind I can almost taste the ink.”
Based on true events and written after meticulous research, Burial Rites gives a voice to Agnes Magnusdottir, a woman condemned to death for the murder of her employer in 19th century Iceland. The narrative is hauntingly atmospheric, and slowly draws the reader into the murderess’ soul, causing you to share the other characters’ gradual affection for the doomed woman. Historical fiction at its’ best.
Gyrdir Eliasson’s Stone Tree
“The heavenly bodies seemed so remote, seen with the naked eye; scarcely more than dots, like the eyes of wild beasts in a black jungle. He was carried past this dark forest by a powerful current, riding in a little boat on a black river–a boat that was the earth itself.”
Reflecting both the other-worldliness as wel as the literary tradition of Iceland, this short fiction anthology is a gem. The short stories written in figurative imagery feature a plethora of protagonists, almost all chasing a dream.