Saturday, October 15, 2011

Iceland's literary heritage highlighted at Frankfurt Book Fair 2011

Jumbo Editorial Team

A literary tradition that was born about 900 years ago with the Sagas, which Icelandic children still read today, has evolved into a thriving modern-day appetite for crime fiction.

Publishers and authors at the Frankfurt Book Fair, which opened on October 12, and where Iceland has been guest of honour, say the strength of Icelandic literature belies its size of just 320,000 inhabitants.

"Our heritage is not of industry, or great architecture, or buildings or palaces. We have text, that's our heritage. When we look upon what we have done it's to the Sagas," Egill Orn Johannsson, Managing Director, Forlagid Publishers, remarked.

Widely seen as a gem in world literature, the Icelandic Sagas, which have been translated into English and German, describe events among the Norse and Celtic inhabitants of Iceland in the 10th and 11th centuries. Written between the 12th and 14th centuries, they focus on history, especially genealogical and family history, reflecting the settlers' struggles and conflicts.

Kristjan Jonasson of Crymogea Publishers observed that his great-grandfather used to relate the Sagas to him as a child but now children's adaptations are available while the Sagas are also taught in school.

“Today Icelandic literature can boast a host of crime writers, who over the last 15 years have placed it on the world map of police detective novels alongside their Swedish, Norwegian or Danish counterparts. With a relatively low crime rate, authors perhaps have little to draw on, but at the end of the 1990s Icelandic authors began to emulate the style of Scandinavian crime writers," Jonasson said.

"The slow-paced, realistic, dark and even pessimistic tone of the Nordic crime fitted very well to the way Icelandic writers simply had been dealing with reality before," he added.

One of those known internationally, Yrsa Sigurdadottir, said she wrote her books with an Icelandic audience in mind first, choosing stories that are not shown in the media about society.

"Icelandics are seen as good, innocent, non-violent and even docile people, but it makes the crime stories even more fun. It's like red blood on white snow, it 'looks better'," she said.

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