The clouds split in two, and the sun that emerged painted Hallgrímur's farm with warm light. The roofs were red jewels encrusted with gold and the walls shone like silver. The grey grass, licked with the fire of the sun, was now amber with just a sprinkle of cinnamon. Gunnar's brow furrowed until he realised what the colours reminded him of: the colours of tempered steel, from straw brown to intense light blue. Mother Nature was not an artist that needed to have a one-of-a-kind bookshelf to feel more important.
Mother Nature didn't care about an audience. A thousand years from now every single person living in Klettafjörður would long be forgotten, their bodies not even dust anymore, but those same mountains would still tower over the same meadows.
I've always wanted to visit Iceland, ever since I read the Icelandic Sagas as a teen. Its history and literature are fascinating. Icelanders have the highest respect for literacy. I read that one in ten Icelanders have a book of some kind published in their lifetime, how wonderful is that! Reading has been an essential part of upbringing through the centuries, even in the most poor communities.
Storytellers by Bjørn Larssen is set in Iceland, with its harsh unforgiving, yet breathtakingly beautiful and poetic landscape.
Gunnar is a reclusive blacksmith with a drinking problem. He lives with his dog and horse, and doesn't want to socialise. He is poor, as his job barely allows him to make ends meet.
He is a loner, and likes it that way. He doesn't understand how people manage to cope with each other, living in close proximity.
"Your're broken, the darkness taunted him. You don't know how to live like normal people. No wonder nobody loves you. When you die nobody will remember you. That will be your legacy, said the darkness, its disembodied voice filled with fake pity".
He is a hermit, and doesn't like any visitors. If anything, they make him panic. He wants peace of the nature around him, and the company of his animals. And a steady supply of his "medication".
However, the fate brings a visitor on his doorstep. Sigurd, a man with a broken ankle, has some mysterious plans of his own. He imposes himself on Gunnar, and pays for his silence. Noone should know about his whereabouts or even his existence.
Sigurd does not want to tell anything about himself, except that he hails from America.
Gunnar is not happy to have someone else's company foisted on him. To stop Gunnar from asking too many questions, Sigurd offers to tell him a story: "Alright... There is a story you might enjoy. It's a good one... I think."
"Do people die in it?"
"Yes, they do."
"Fire? Women? Drinking? Fights?"
"Plenty of everything".
And thus we travel back in time, as the story unravels.
There was once a young, fearless Icelander named Arnar, who went to seek his luck and fortune in America.
Sigurd narrates the tale in installments, following Arnar's life in America, where he meets the love of his life, a beautiful Juana. Juana and Arnar elope and come back to Iceland.
For Juana it's a cultural shock, nothing is like what she dreamed of or expected.
The narrative moves back and forth, but Gunnar's and Arnar's stories are interconnected. They are both stories of the human loneliness, depression and feeling entrapped.
For Juana, it's the life of the outsider, endless miscarriages, poverty of her new home, realisation that she could never go back home, disconnection with her husband.
For Gunnar, it's depression, disillusionment and self-imposed loneliness.
Sigurd is a man with an agenda. He keeps telling his story, which might get Gunnar killed.
Gunnar's world starts to crumble, as he's being ambushed by the Conservative Women of Iceland who want to rescue him and bring him back to God. And there's Brynhildur who just wants to get married, even to a depressed alcoholic.
Gunnar has to accept that his life will need to change, but on his own terms.
At the beginning of the story Gunnar appears as an unpleasant boorish alcoholic, but as the story unrolls you become more and more sympathetic to his plight.
This multi-layered tale provides an intimate look into the lives of the Icelandic farmers in a small village without name in the 1920s.
The small community feels oppressive, superstitious and intolerant at times. The lives of the farmers of the village are full of unrelentless hardship.
Larssen's perceptions are sharp and not unsympathetic.
He elevates the lives of farmers in the small closed community to the level of sagas - focused on family histories and common identity.
The readers are immersed in the day-to-day monotony of life, social norms and conventions, and moving beyond the village - political undercurrents of the historical period.
Bjørn Larssen is a brilliant storyteller. His first novel is gripping, atmospheric, chilling and moving... Very highly recommended.
Bjørn Larssen was "made" in Poland. He is mostly located in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, except for his heart which he lost in Iceland. Born in 1977, he self-published his fist graphic novelat the age of seven in a limited edition of one.
Since then his short stories and essays were published in Rita Baum Art Magazine, Writer Unboxed, Inaczei Magazine, Eduarda.pl, Homiki.pl, and Holandia Expat Magazine. He is a member of Alliance of Independent Authors and Writer Unboxed.
Bjørn has a Master of Science degree in mathematics, worked as a graphic designer, a model and a blacksmith. He used to speak eight languages (Currently down to two and a half).
His hobbies include sitting by open fires, dressing like an extra from Vikings, installing operating systems, and dreaming about living in a log cabin in the north of Iceland, even though he hates being cold. He has only met an elf once. So far.
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This post if part of the blog tour for Storytellers. Please check out the other reviewers here:
Disclosure: Many thanks to Bjørn Larssen, JosephTaylor and Rachel's Random Resources for my copy of the book!