I’m working my way steadily through Annabookbel’s NordicFINDS challenge, and yes, we’re in Iceland again, as we will be for most of the time now (“River Kings” and “The Magnetic North” both cover a variety of Nordic countries).

I bought this memoir while in the middle of reading Kari Gislason and Richard Fidler’s wonderful “Sagaland“, as Richard mentions when describing Kari’s search for his Icelandic father and family and his quest to get himself added into the Icelandic record of blood-lines. So reading it, I was in the somewhat unusual position of knowing the basics of the story, and also what happened next, although it didn’t matter in the slightest and I still greatly enjoyed this one.

Kari Gislason – “The Promise of Iceland”

(04 November 2021)

I suppose my generation tends to declare its feelings more openly, and I am by nature the type who writes things out in order to understand them. I must admit that I wonder how my story will be interpreted by my own children, when they eventually come to join in the creation of the past with their own reading of this book. (p. 271)

Opening in Reykjavik in 1990, we encounter the 17-year-old Kari meeting his father for the first time as an adult; the father who had an affair with his English mother then swore her to secrecy when she became pregnant. Discussing the fact they’d both encountered the President of Iceland, Gisli unfortunately also extracts a promise of secrecy from Kari. Bouncing around between Australia, England and Iceland, just like his restless mother (and her parents, who switched between Australia and England), Kari is always on the move, never making a proper, fulfilling relationship, always drawn back to Iceland (as those who love the place always are: even though I have no genetic connection to the place, I always wanted to go, and once I went, I have had to go back and back; I’m missing it at the moment).

We then travel back to follow his life as a child in Iceland then, as I mentioned, moving around, his mum making the “choices” she has to make as a single mother who never lets any other partner in her life – but has an excellent, disparate group of English and Australian secretaries and their husbands as friends in Iceland who then provide a safe space for Kari on his visits, too. Losing then regaining his Icelandic, he finally resolves to be secretive no more, and manages to make contact with his uncle then his half-siblings, remarkably and beautifully kind and accepting. Will he make peace with his father’s evasiveness? He even lives in the Westfjords and Reykjavik for a year, bringing his wife with him and having their first child there – I’d read about this in “Saga Land” but there was much more detail in this volume just about Kari.

It’s nicely written, warm and engaging, self-effacing and accepting his errors. I loved all the details about living and growing up in Reykjavik (more so somehow because he’s almost an exact contemporary of mine), stepping onto the frozen pond Tjornin, which I’ve seen frozen with the small corner for greedy water birds just the same, etc., and how he helped the President, Vigdis Finnbogadottir, with her shopping, so small and safe and interconnected is the island community. He also visits a few saga sites, which is always pleasing, though again makes me yearn to return myself.

A good bit of Bookish Beck Book Serendipity with this one. Yes, I’m reading a lot of Icelandic books so it’s not as unexpected as it might have been, but I was concurrently reading Egil’s Saga in my saga book when reading this, and Egil’s lament for his lost son turned up in this book, which I’m just about to come to in the saga!

This was my third NordicFINDS read and (re)covered Iceland. I bought it too late for it to be part of the big TBR Challenge but that’s OK!