02 June 2011

The oldest book I own

When I was about 12 years old I read, for the first time, a classic Icelandic novel titled Sagan af Heljarslóðarorrustu (the title translates as The Battle of Hell's Domain) by Benedikt Sveinbjarnarson Gröndal (1826-1907). It is one of the earliest modern-style novels written in Icelandic, and possibly the first humorous Icelandic novel, written in a deliberately grandiloquent satirical style and telling the story of the Battle of Solferino as if it were an Icelandic Saga.

My grandmother owned a copy of the book and promised to give it to me when I was older. Much later, having forgotten her promise, she gave a copy to someone else, but I knew she had another one because the one I read didn't have illustrations like the one she gave away, so I knew all hope was not lost. Then, recently, she decided to get rid of most of her book collection and gave the family the go-ahead to take whatever books we wanted.

Lo and behold! This book came out of the first box we opened. It wasn't the edition I had read - I remember that as being bound in buckram - but an old, tattered second edition of the book inside a battered leather cover. When I showed the book to granny, she told me it had belonged to a good friend of hers, a man who was very good to me when I was a child and who was like a second grandfather to me. He died when I was a teenager. This of course makes it even more precious to me, but it's not a reading copy. This one is fragile and liable to fall apart in my hands if I try to read it, and there are a couple of pages missing. I might rebind it, but I think it looks quite charming in its current well-thumbed condition, so I may just end up making a clam-shell box to store it in.

Shortly afterward I acquired a reading copy, a  library discard of the most recent re-issue with wonderful illustrations by Icelandic artist Halldór Pétursson (the artist whose illustrations of the 1972 Fischer-Spassky world chess championships were reprinted in newspapers all over the world) that perfectly compliment the story. Due to copyright reasons I can't post any of his drawings, and in any case I didn't find any online for this particular book. You can click here to get a general idea of his style.

3 comments:

Kayleigh said...

Wow! What a beautiful old book, and even more special because of the personal connection with it

Bibliophile said...

Yes, it is quite special.

djskrimiblog said...

How lucky you are! And I would also appreciate it so much more if I had known the former owner.