Video: Heroic attempt to herd a large pod of pilot whales stuck in fjord in W. Iceland
Literature is the key to an understanding of the culture and society of a foreign country. This is certainly true for Iceland: Writing and reading are ingrained in the culture. Icelanders read and write books at record levels. Studies show 93% of Icelanders read at least one book per year.
We asked five locals to recommend a book every foreign visitor should read to get to know Iceland and Icelandic culture.
Sanna Magdalena Mörtudóttir
Independent People (1934) by Iceland Halldór Laxness, who received the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1955
“The story takes place in the early 20th century. Its realistic depictions of events and characters are gripping. We follow the trials and tribulations of Bjartur who struggles to buy his own land to become an independent farmer. His obsession with being an independent man, and the insights the book offers into the life and fate of him and his family evoke strong emotions in the reader. The stark class-differences and the struggle of poor people are just as relevant today.”
Sanna was elected to the City Council of Reykjavík in the May elections as a representative of the Socialist Party. She is both the first woman of color to be elected to the Reykjavík City Council, and the youngest person to become a city councilor.
Andri Snær Magnason
Njáls Saga, a thirteenth-century saga that describes events that took place between 960 and 1020. Author unknown.
“I recommend reading Njáls Saga. Like many classics people praise and tell you to read, I tried to revolt against it, but then I was reading it again, and at one chapter I got these goosebumps and wondered, who weaved this 800 years ago!”
Andri Snær is an environmental campaigner, author, poet and playwright. His works have been translated into more than 30 languages.
Among his works is Dreamland: A Self-Help Manual for a Frightened Nation (2006). It is a fascinating, and damning critique of the dark side of Iceland‘s green energy. Hydro- or geothermal power plants come at a cost, as rivers and pristine nature have been sacrificed to power energy-intensive industries. The English edition has a foreword by fellow environmental campaigner Björk.
The Lodger and other stories (2000) by Svava Jakobsdóttir, one of Iceland‘s leading contemporary writers.
“Svava Jakobsdóttir´s original and compelling stories are simple on the surface but uniquely subtle and powerful in their critical irony, taking the accepted and normal and turning it on its head in unexpected ways. Necessary to understand not only Iceland but the entire 20th century and beyond, not least from a woman´s point of view.”
Katrín is the leader of the Left-Green Movement and the Prime Minister of Iceland. She is also known as an expert in Icelandic crime fiction, receiving her MA in Icelandic Literature from the University of Iceland in 2004. Her thesis was on the work of Iceland‘s best-known crime writers, Arnaldur Indriðason.
Dagur B. Eggertsson
Moonstone: The Boy Who Never Was (2013) by Sjón
“The story is set in Reykjavík in 1918 when Iceland gained independence from Denmark and became a sovereign state. Sjón is one of my favorite writers. He is a writer of few words, delivering concise stories, leaving them with his readers. An author for anyone interested in getting to know the cutting edge of Icelandic literature.”
Dagur is the Mayor of Reykjavík. He was the Vice-Chairman of the Social Democratic Alliance 2009-2013. Dagur is a medical doctor, having worked at the National University Hospital before going into politics. He also has a Master’s Degree in Human Rights and International Law from Lund University.
Karítas untitled (2004) by Kristín Marja Baldursdóttir
“Icelandic reality of the 20th century and a sizzling hot love story. A story all Icelandic women and men fell for. It has everything from Icelandic nature in the broadest sense of the word to the friendship and solidarity of women. The most memorable chapter is the climb to Iceland‘s tallest peak, Hvannadalshnjúkur where nature and emotions achieve a wonderful harmony.”
Ilmur is an actress, best known to international audiences for her interpretation of the police officer Hinrika in the Icelandic TV crime drama Trapped (2016). Trapped was named by the BBC as one of the must-watch TV shows of 2018. The second season of Trapped is scheduled to air later this year.
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