Asdis Jonsdottir, know as Disa, left Iceland in her youth, returning once in her twenties when need took her there.Estranged from her mother and sister, out of touch with her brother in America,she has made her home in England with her close friend Anthony.
Slowly, lyrically, drifting with images and memories as they arise, she reflects on her life and the path she has taken. The chapter headings move back and forth in time, following memory and the events of her life. A random selection:
The doctor of Old Icelandic talked nonstop
A white canvas had been hung over the street
I got to know Anthony early in’38
The day the British occupied Iceland
I got back to Reykjavik
During the last days I’ve been wondering
Her story weaves through past and present ; remembering her mother’s screams as she gave birth to a child, the hard work that took her from household help to accomplished cook, the lover that she lost, and the life she has created, as part owner of a highly regarded hotel, renowned for its cuisine.
Disa is an obstinate character, and a rather harsh judge of the mistakes of others. She herself has been far from perfect, but has stood up against rising Nazism in Iceland, and given help and support to some of the troubled people in her life.
Now, coming to the end of life’s journey, she has her own reasons for visiting Iceland one more time. I’ll say no more except that she fulfills her purpose in making this journey.
When she returns home her life follows its usual course, although she cannot work as she once did.In the mornings she drinks her tea in the conservatory and her cat Tina comes to greet her
We wait for the light to reach along the branches of the poplar and touch the wings of the blackbird. When it flies with the light up into the quiet morning air we stand up and go downstairs. And I say,”Daylight has come, Tina. A new day.”
A lyrical and affecting book, with a strong female protagonist. Some readers found Disa difficult to like. I found her to be a believably contradictory human being.
This is the first book I have read by Olaf Olafsson. It was published in English in 2001, his book Absolution published in 1991, was a best seller. His most recent book,to be released in December this year, is One Station Away, which has a character who receives long awaited success as a pianist and another who is a neurologist. Irresistible.
Olafsson was born in Iceland, but now lives in New York, and when he is not writing novels, is the Executive Vice President of Time Warner. Previously he was founder, president and CEO of Sony Interactive Entertainment.
Don’t hold this against him, though, he is an excellent writer.