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Iceland Books

Iceland is the country of story-telling and books. One in every 10 Icelander will publish a book at some point in his or her life. We also read more books per capita than any other country in the world.

We have an abundance of amazing story-tellers who draw on the great tradition of the Eddas and the Sagas.
If you come to Reykjavik this winter we urge you to spend some time reading books from some of these fantastic writers. We will light a fire at the 101 hotel so that you can cuddle up in front of it with a book. In this newsletter we recommend a couple of great books.

The Icelandic literary tradition

The literary tradition of Iceland is both old and rich. The famous Sagas were written in the 13th and 14th centuries. They are still worth reading because they are stylistically more akin to modern stories than other contemporary chronicles and legends. It is possible to find the Sagas in English translation.

The most famous Icelandic writer is probably Halldór Laxness who was awarded the Nobel Prize in literature in 1955. As many Icelandic writers his perspective was international – and he lived much of his life outside of Iceland.

In recent years crime fiction has been the rage in the book industry. Arnaldur Indridason is probably the first Icelandic crime novelist. Until his debut in 1997 there was no real tradition of writing about crime in Iceland. Today Arnaldur Indridason reaches readers well beyond Iceland with his books about Erlendur Sveinsson.

The writer who sold the Northern Lights

One of the more peculiar Icelandic writers is Einar Benediktsson (or Einar Ben as he is known in Iceland). Born in 1864 he is well-known for his poetry and high-flying projects. He had many business ideas during the industrial revolution of Iceland, however, most were large-scale failures. Therefore, he was broke most of the time. At one point he tried to earn a bit of money selling the Northern Lights to a group of Swiss investors. This also failed.

Book recommendations

Halldor Laxness: Independent People – the book is considered among the foremost examples of social realism in Icelandic literature. Arnaldur Indridason: Into Oblivion – this is the latest crime novel from Arnaldur about detective Erlendur. Erlendur is asked to investigate the cold case of a young girl who vanished into thin air on her way to school forty years earlier.

Gerður Kristný: Bloodhoof – Gerður is one of the superstars of contemporary Icelandic poetry. Bloodhoof is the re-casting into compulsively spare modern verse of an ancient Eddic poem Svava Jakobsdottir: Gunnlöth’s tale - This spirited and at times sinister novel ensnares the reader in a tangled encounter between modern-day Scandinavia and the ancient world of myth. Svava herself was one of Iceland’s foremost authors and feminists.
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