I just finished reading a chilling book by Yrsa, a leading Icelandic crime-fiction writer.
The story happens in the Westfjords, actually where my mother‘s side of the family comes from and where people really had to fight for their survival on a daily basis, not so long ago.
The Westfjords have always been isolated from rest of Iceland. The country‘s ring road,Route Number One, goes around Iceland but doesn´t include the Westfjords.
In a way, that makes the Westfjords the country‘s most authentic scenic region. An area of high and steep mountains, fjords, and some areas unreachable by cars, the Westfjords have maintained a sense of isolation and mystique. On my visit to the area recently, I was amazed by the entrepreneurship of people living there, their great ideas in tourism to get people to understand the nature, the people and the way of being in this area, where the sun doesn´t reach over the mountain tops for months during the winter months. The roads can be a challenge but the nature is unbelievable, powerful and raw. That is the true charm of this area in my opinion. This is a place to get away from it all, to get peace to recharge and to visit one of the most beautiful areas on earth.
And it‘s a fitting setting for a fearsome book..
As someone with extensive knowledge of the Westfjords I couldn´t put the book down. It kept me awake and it gave me goosebumps. It made me feel sick and it made me curious.
I have never been a fan of Yrsa. I have always preferred other types of Icelandic writers. The only crime writer I occasionally like is maybe Arnaldur Indridason, especially during Christmas when the so called „Book nation“ goes crazy over all the available books published before the book festival of the year in Iceland (which happens to be Christmas).
I realized, when reading this book by Yrsa, that I was captivated by the scenery, the way of living and looking at life and perhaps, even though I have often denied it, the belief of the Icelandic nation in supernatural things such as hidden people, elves, ghosts and unexplained phenomena. The Icelanders are not generally religious, but many of them believe in supernatural powers and the common saying is, „How can we know, we also don´t know if it doesn´t exist“.
Living in the Westfjords, especially in areas that now have become deserted, must have been challenging. The endless sea accidents where families would even see their family members drown, right in front of their eyes. Or when seamen have never been found, in so many cases. I totally get why these kind of books capture the folk beliefs and how people, now and then, seek answers to the unexplained.
I reccomend reading a book by Icelandic authors. May it be crime fiction or something else. To capture the atmosphere, the Icelandic spirit, the way of being, thinking and behaving; reading a book can get you there. That is at least the first step.
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