Books About Iceland

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The population of Iceland is about 300,000. However, this country has the distinction of possessing the most number of writers per head worldwide. Iceland also leads the world in regard to the most books published and read per head. It continues to be a fascinating setting for writers and film makers. The following books are written both by Icelanders and authors of other nationalities.

1. Burial Rites by Hannah Kent Inspired by a true story, this book is set in the first half of the nineteenth century. A young woman has been convicted of murder and is awaiting her death by execution.

2. Independent People by Halldor Laxness The author was the winner of the Nobel Prize for literature in 1955. The story is about a sheep farmer who is determined to be independent. He sticks to his principles, despite the cost to his family. His daughter is as independent minded as him, and this leads to a clash of wills.

3. Ice Land by Betsy Tobin This story is set in 1000 AD when Christian influences were sweeping Iceland, threatening to wipe out its culture. The story uses the legends and traditional beliefs of Iceland in that era.

4. Gunnloth’s Tale by Svava Jakobsdottir This Icelandic author has written a story in a contemporary setting, but in which the Icelandic characters are involved with mythical Norse characters. Ancient legends and rituals come into conflict with the law, and the protagonists are caught between this world and the world of gods and goddesses.

5. Devil’s Island by Einar Karason During World War II, American troops were stationed in Iceland, bringing in their wake a way of life new to the residents of Reykjavik. In this story, set in the 1950s and 60s, the disruption caused by the culture clash is highlighted. The book is marked with dark humour.

6. The Blue Fox by Sjon A priest is looking for the legendary blue fox. A naturalist is looking after a woman with Down’s syndrome. The story pulls these strands together, combining magical realism and myth. It is set in the late 19th century and depicts the coming of modern facilities like electricity, which was viewed with suspicion by many.

7. Iceland’s Bell by Halldor Laxness Iceland was once a Danish colony. Towards the end of the 17th century, conditions in Iceland were grim. In this story, the author uses traditional Icelandic legends to produce a social satire with all the elements needed for a gripping narrative.

8. The Little Book of the Hidden People: Stories of Elves from Icelandic Folklore by Alda Sigmunsdottir Traditionally, Icelandic culture is replete with tales of ‘hidden people’ who lived in hills and rocks. In this collection of stories, the author has provided insights into their origin. The harsh living conditions, where survival could not be taken for granted, gave rise to fantasies where prosperity and power ruled. This is why the lives of the elves were so much better than those of their creators.

9. From the Mouth of the Whale by Sjon The protagonist of this story has been accused of heresy and is living in exile. In 1635, science and superstition co-existed uneasily. This is reflected in the narrative which is in turns horrific and full of the wonder of discovery.

10. Iceland: Its Scenes and Sagas by Sabine Baring-Gould The author was a teacher who was fascinated by what he had heard of Iceland. In 1862, he set off to explore Iceland on horseback. In this book, he has described what he saw of the landforms, flora and fauna. He also tells of the society of that time, including their rich folklore. He has provided his own illustrations.

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