(Hallgrimur Helgason reading from his latest book)
Travel Broadens the Literary Mind?
After a few days in Iceland I’ve returned home with the knowledge that this small rocky island in the North Atlantic has a strong literary tradition. As we were told, with a population of roughly 330,000 and one Nobel laureate of literature — Iceland has the highest ration of literature laureate per capita in the world!
The Icelandic story telling tradition began with the sagas, originally spoken tales mostly based on family and historical events. that took place in the 9th, 10th and 11th centuries. They recorded the struggles and conflict in society including many tit-for-tat killings.
We visited the home of Halldor Laxness (1902-1998), Iceland’s laureate, and were given a reading by Hallgrimur Helgason. He read from his latest work, a very funny account of someone trying to make an appointment at the crematorium for himself, and then the poem Suit and Tie that he wrote for the first anniversary of the Icelandic financial crash. You can see him reading the poem on You Tube . It is well worth listening to.
One evening we did a literary tour of Reykjavik. Not only was this a great way to see the older buildings in the city and hear the history but it also introduced me to readings from other Icelandic writers. I already knew Yrsa Siguroardottir, but will now make sure I read more of her books. I’m also going to look out for Arnaldur Indrioasun, another contemporary Icelandic crime writer.
Finally at a ‘fireside tales evening’ in the hotel we were entertained by an actress reading excerpts from the sagas, a piece by Laxness, and a charming children’s story about giants who, story has it, are turned to stone by sun light and since giants are not very bright Iceland is littered with giants who have been turned to stone.
So I’ve returned with a greater understanding of Iceland’s literary traditions and a list of authors and books to look out for. Travel can broaden the literary mind.