This very charming collection of short stories written by a Chinese writer was published without any reference--anywhere on/inside the book--to the tr...moreThis very charming collection of short stories written by a Chinese writer was published without any reference--anywhere on/inside the book--to the translator. There is an indication--barely visible in small print--about the fact that the original first appeared in "Le Monde." Maybe the writer lives in France and writes in French, but even so, there should be a mention about the translation. The book didn't write itself out of thin air. (less)
It took me some time to establish a connection with Steinunn Sigurdardóttir’s novel Place of the Heart, in spite of its elegant yet unpretentious writ...moreIt took me some time to establish a connection with Steinunn Sigurdardóttir’s novel Place of the Heart, in spite of its elegant yet unpretentious writing, translated with outstanding artfulness by Philip Roughton. The reason is simple: I hate spending time with teenagers bent on destroying themselves with drugs and alcohol, not to mention the risk of AIDS—and this novel forces you to. But the author managed to convince me that her novel is more than worth reading, and the more I read the more enjoyable it became. Its 413 pages are written in Harpa’s voice, a complex character, mother to a delinquent teenager, who had her at the unripe age of sixteen. A single mother working as an assistant nurse, Harpa struggles to save her daughter, Edda, from the downward spiral she’s been caught in, and which could only lead to her death. Edda is a masterfully realized portrait of a teenager out of control: she calls her mother whore, bitch, old cow, tells her to “eat shit,” and threatens to kill her. Possessed by some inner demon, the fifteen-year-old girl shares the company of very dubious characters depicted with lucidity and humor by Sigurdardóttir, and one New Year’s eve she is left for dead—or she tries to commit suicide, we don’t know—half naked, in the snow. Harpa manages to save her life, but the incident leads to a decision she hopes would be life-changing: to move from Reykjavik to her relatives on Iceland’s East coast, and let the marvelous countryside of her childhood heal her daughter.
Thus begins a journey that takes over four hundred pages, and covers 48 hours and half of Iceland. True, the journey is also inward, in Harpa’s mind and soul, and into the past. Besides her best friend, Heidur, who drives them, and Edda, Harpa’s dead mother is also a steady road companion, engaging her in long conversations and refusing to reveal the identity of her real father. Harpa, who bears no resemblance neither to her legal father nor to Icelandic people in general, is, thus, on a double quest: for a “place of the heart” for her daughter; and for her true identity. She hopes to find both at her aunt’s place, Dýrfinna, and that of a cousin who has offered to host Edda. The aunt, the cousin, another aunt and an uncle seen on the road, are all quirky, picturesque, yet angelic in their goodness, characters, and take us to a bygone world populated with tales of ghosts, homemade pies and a natural landscape of uncanny beauty.
The journey is not without perils, as it turns out that Edda’s delinquent friends have been following them, and somewhere, in a parking lot, they pretend that they are taking her with them, but in the end let her go, after giving her a new provision of white powder. Nature is also sometimes a dangerous monster in these remote parts—apocalyptic winds are lashing at their car. Yet, the description of Iceland’s moonlike landscape is one of the best rewards of this novel, and it will make you want to travel. I had just returned from Iceland before reading it, and it was a double pleasure to immerse myself into Sigurdardóttir’s world. The novel’s surprise ending— both the identity of Harpa’s real father and the twist in her love life are unexpected—adds to a truly enjoyable reading experience. (less)