The world’s northernmost banana trees grow on Iceland, the world’s largest volcanic island, and there’s no shortage of superlatives. For example, Icelanders are a world leader when it comes to gender equality and acceptance of exotic lifestyles. From today’s perspective, this might not be surprising, as we’re used to basic advances farther north. In a situation where its current population is still less than that of Wuppertal, social decisions must also run relatively smoothly. But anyone who lets Au Avur Ava Ólafsdóttir’s novel “Miss Island” take them back to Icelandic conditions in the 1960s will in the future view the leap in the progress of the small, hot and cold country with increasing respect.
But this is only one aspect of this multi-layered and interesting work of prose, for which the author was awarded the French “Prix Médicis étranger” in 2019. Alafsdottir was born in 1958 and thus 16 years younger than the narrator in this book, and studied art history At the Sorbonne and lived not only in France but also in Italy, which is why she is more famous in these countries than here. “Miss Island” could change that. The novel can be read as a semi-feminist manifesto of refreshing and calm comedy, but also as an extraordinary love story and above all as a tribute to the exclusivity of Icelanders, which ten years after the island nation’s legendary guest-state appeared at the Frankfurt Book Fair, seems even more grotesque than then: zeal Obsessed with literature rescued from medieval epic traditions to the present.
In the countryside, women also read, but writing is a man’s business
The introduction, dated 1942, appears to be directly related to ancient tales and legends. On a remote farm in the Dallaire region, in the “Laxdæla Saga” theater, a girl is born with the help of an energetic vet, who washes his hands with a fresh bar of Lux soap and then raises the baby with the words “Lux Mundi” the light of the world. This is a formidable life mission, but the second immediately follows: the father, obsessed with the fire-breathing mountains, calls the newborn a hulk, against the protests of the mother. When the volcano of the same name erupted four and a half years later, he and his daughter drove to the scene in a Russian jeep. Then the little one is changed, talking “volcanic” and looking increasingly upward and into the distance. Obviously, this is where her fate lies, for her parents are farmers, but the father is well-read and gets along with geologists, and the mother who reports on all these accidents, does so in a humorous and educated manner.
So it’s no surprise that Hekla, who had matured into a beautiful beauty, had “Ulysses” with her, including a dictionary, when she left for Reykjavik on the intercity bus in 1963. News of the business of the century permeated Iceland’s wild west, and the library system is working fine Very well, the desire for education and the thirst for reading flourish in the country and among young women. Writing, however, is considered a man’s business. But the heroine has plans to become a writer. She claims that she knows only one role model in her homeland, with whom she also came to a tragic end. The result is a gentle tale, even if the esteemed neo-romantic poet Unnur Bjarklind better known as Hulda, who published several volumes of poetry and prose between 1909 and 1946 and is quoted several times in the novel, is repressed.
The author clearly reconstructed Joe Reykjavik in the early 1960s, half Danish, half American. To the roughly 80,000 residents of the capital at the time, the number of bookshops and literary cafés seemed like a fairy tale again. Mocha is the hottest meeting place for poets and those who want to become one: so many men, a closed society that looks suspiciously at the self-confident newcomer. Hekla is assessed with masculine eyes of a completely different kind who must inevitably make a living as a “cold mummy”, in the dining room of the Burg Hotel, the meeting place of the impudent Icelandic bourgeoisie: there, she is advised to forget her literary career and prefer to apply for the title of “Queen” The beauty of the island
But it is not only the rotten advances of the gentlemen or the poor experiences of the waitresses that prevent her from following the call: she wants to write every free minute, and her way of describing the happiness of writing makes that passion tangible. It is also likely that it has the brief and airy language with which its inventor succeeds in distinguishing circles and persons in such a way that the essentials appear, sometimes brilliantly sarcastic, sometimes sarcastic, and again touching directly between sentences.
The young woman with volcanic energy is not an island, she has companions with unforgettable voices. There is a talkative childhood friend sey, who also loves to write, but has decided on the life plan of her wife and mother and often quarrels with her. There’s the would-be poet Starkur, who wishes to turn Hikla into a cricket on the stove until he realizes her talent far outweighs his. And there is Jon Jon, her great love and intimate companion, who as a gay man in Iceland in that era arouses at least as much insult as the woman who writes: he dreams of becoming a theatrical tailor and instead has to employ himself in hunting. fishing vessels. His first novel manuscript is about a person like him, which the publisher, though he admires, rejects it, of course. Incidentally, his basic argument, “that this text is very different from what we usually publish,” may be outdated.
A marital relationship that is denied an erotic dimension and has the depth of my existence is rarely portrayed so accurately here. Eventually, Hickla and John Jon set off for a southern country, with Copenhagen as a stopover. There, too, the Earth has dangerous volcanic moments, but in the warmth it seems easier to keep hopes for a better world for gays and writers. which was already checked later. By and large, anyway.