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Frankfurter Buchmesse 2011 Challenge: Þar sem djöflaeyjan rís by Einar Kárason

I decided to review this book even if I didn’t read it in January because, frankly, I haven’t been to the library all month and it suddenly dawned on me that I only have 3 days left to do a Buchmesse review for January.

Genre: Generational novel
Year of publication: 1983
Setting and time: Reykjavík, 1940s to 1960s
English title, translator and year of publication: Devil's Island; David MacDuff and Magnus Magnusson; 1999
German title, translator and year of publication: Die Teufelsinsel; Marita Bergsson; 1997

This story covers, in realistic detail, a couple of decades in the life of an Icelandic working-class family in the years following the Second World War. Shortly after the end of the war they settle in a house in the middle of a neighbourhood of Nissen huts left behind when the American occupation ended. These neighbourhoods were seen as slums, but they were a much-needed solution to a housing problem caused by the hundreds of people who left their homes in the countryside and small towns and headed to the capital in search of jobs and better lives. The building industry wasn’t coping with the influx and so these people ended up living, often for many years, in the increasingly decrepit huts until they could find better places to live.

The particular family this book is about were a large and exuberant bunch and there was much drama and much that was funny that is described in the story. The central character is Baddi, grandson of matriarch Karolína, a young man raised in America who is sent back to Iceland apparently to keep him out of trouble, but he manages to find plenty of it in the old country.

Einar Kárason is one of Iceland’s most loved authors. His style is frank and funny and he pulls no punches in this semi-fictional novel, which is based on real people and real events. This is the first (and best) in a trilogy of books about several generations of this family, but can be read as an independent work (it will have to be in English, since it’s the only one of his books that has been translated into that language).

Although it was published over 10 years ago in translation, it is well worth seeking out. 5 stars.

There is a movie, directed by respected Icelandic director Friðrik Þór Friðriksson and the script written by the author. It leaves out a lot of detail and side stories and is in no way a complete reflection of the story told in the book, but it's good nevertheless.


Dorte H said…
Djævleøen - ha, I could recognize that word.

Do you know if it is translated into Danish - or other Scandinavian languages?
Bibliophile said…
Dorte, it was translated into Danish and published by Gyldendal in 1997 as Djævelens ø. It has also been translated into Finnish, Faeroese, Norwegian, and Swedish.
Dorte H said…
I´ll try to get it from the library then.
Bibliophile said…
If you find it, I'd be interested in knowing what you think of it.

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