"David Copperfield" of Iceland, only more charming
The Fish Can Sing
F @ 2010-06-15
This is a book I picked up out of idle curiosity about the most famous modern writer of the land of the Vikings, and then couldn't put down, staying up late and neglecting work to finish it. It's terribly quotable and wise. It is about the life, from birth to age 18, of the fatherless, motherless Alfgrimur of Brekkukot, who has the good luck to be raised by two of the kindest, wisest people in the world, his "grandmother" and "grandfather." (Later in life he finds out they are not even married or related.) They operate a sort of free hostel for the down and out of a still agricultural, poverty-stricken, but literate, tradition-revering, and immensely decent culture. The book is full of love for the quirky, humorous, unpretentious Icelanders of the Danish colonial period, and so moving my eyes were full of tears as I finished it.
The boy Alfgrimur's childhood is overshadowed by the fame of his glorious relative, Gardar Holm, and as he gradually gets to know Gardar Holm, the story takes on gravity and becomes more than a simple memoir of a happy childhood among innocent people.
I don't want to say too much, because there are people who will be bored by this book. They are the people who like what I call "airport novels."
I loved it, every sentence and minute of it, as if I were spending time with the most admirable people in the world. I am now planning to seek out all the books by Halldor Laxness that have been translated into English. I see why he won the Nobel prize.
The masterly translation by Magnus Magnusson is everything a translation should be-- you forget you are not reading a work written in English.
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