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Children in Reindeer Woods
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Children in Reindeer Woods

3.5  ·  Rating details ·  141 Ratings  ·  43 Reviews
Eleven-year-old Billie lives at a ‘temporary home for children’ called Children in Reindeer Woods, which she discovers one afternoon, to her surprise, is in the middle of a war zone. When a small group of paratroopers kill everyone who lives there with her, and then turn on each other, Billie is forced to learn to live with the violent, innocent, and troubled Rafael, who d ...more
Paperback, 198 pages
Published April 17th 2012 by Open Letter Books (first published January 1st 2004)
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May 10, 2012 rated it liked it

Three soldiers walk up to a house in the woods. An old woman who lives in the house offers them food, drink, a place to sit down and against all the rules of civilized hospitality, and in the kind of action that drives Greek Tragedy and propels stories like George RR Martin's along, the soldiers act like really bad guests. They open fire on the old women, a couple of adults, some children and dogs and kill all of them but one little girl who runs off and hides. One of the soldiers then turns aro
Jul 16, 2012 rated it it was ok
Imagine a hike in Reindeer Woods.

The sky is clear. Creatures creep and call and chatter around you, complemented by small and sometimes irritating insect doings. You wear a backpack that is well-stocked. You are rested, and you feel ready to walk for many hours. Beside you are some new acquaintances. You listen to what they have to say, and you ponder what has been said. You have every intention of making the most of this shared experience, and of keeping these people in memory.

Together, you wal
Jenny (Reading Envy)
I read this along with the The World's Literature group here in GoodReads, where we are reading Icelandic lit in 2014. This book is written by an Icelander, but takes place in an unnamed place and time. It can't be Iceland because it has borders with war going on, and it can't be too far in the past because they mention computers.

The two main characters are Rafael, a paratrooper who comes to a home, kills all but one person, and decides to become a farmer and not return to the military life. Bil
Chris Blocker
Jun 29, 2012 rated it liked it
I try to avoid stereotypes—positive or negative—especially cultural stereotypes. There are valid reasons sometimes why these stereotypes were assigned, but there are quite a few that were meant only to harm. That being said, I've tried to ignore that stigma of oddness placed on Icelanders. Sure an Internet search on famous Icelanders and Icelandic attractions may lead you to believe they're all a little strange, but surely they all cannot be, right?

Children in Reindeer Woods is odd. There may be
Theresa Leone Davidson
Apr 05, 2017 rated it did not like it
It is always baffling to me how novels that are not well written with so little story to them get published; nevertheless, they do. This is one of them, from Iceland and translated into English, by author Kristin Omarsdottir. The first two pages are about three soldiers who kill every adult, every child, with the exception of one, and the family dog in a farmhouse they visit, and then one of the soldiers decides to kill the other two soldiers as well. The rest of the story is about the one soldi ...more
Beth Asmaa
Mar 30, 2014 rated it really liked it
The story's setting is more a fantasy then a relevant place in real life. Even the book of earthly laws created by the main character's father seems so far from actual practice that it's laughable. An ex-soldier and a slightly retarded eleven-year-old girl are the sole survivors of the soldier's evil deeds at a remote farmhouse during wartime. While the story might make excuses for the soldier's stress under duress and his being formerly thwarted from his desired life as a farmer, he progresses ...more
I feel I am as yet unable to give this book a rating. I have not had enough time to truly process it. Thought-provoking? Absolutely. Gripping? Without a doubt. I am just not completely sure that I understand all of the implications at the end of this novel.

Children in Reindeer Woods is an Icelandic novel, which very unusually is not set in Iceland. Its setting is vaguely European, and many languages and phrases from different countries run through it. I believe that this book is in itself an ant
Aaron (Typographical Era)
Jun 21, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2012
Within the first two pages of Children in Reindeer Woods in quick succession two women, three children, one man, one dog, and two soldiers are brutally murdered. When the dust finally settles the only ones left standing are an eleven year old girl named Billie who may or may not be mentally handicapped and a soldier named Rafael who may or may not be completely deranged. The remaining one hundred ninety five pages chronicle their disturbingly fascinating story.

Where is this farm house that doubl
Jan 12, 2012 rated it it was amazing
This slim, strange novel gave me awesome nightmares. Which I mean in the best way. Worth the read just for the scenes of Barbies talking to each other ("Sara: I had to host this party, my darling cinnamon bun, so that no one would think I'm retarded."), but also for its unsettling, often hilarious, and sometimes terrifying visions of girlhood, the idealized/idyllic country life, and wartime. Ómarsdóttir is also a poet and a playwright, and the novel has the qualities of both: a hallucinatory fee ...more
John Williams
Jan 14, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Darkly surreal, emotionally dangerous, yet somehow quaint, very human, and emotionally accessible, 'Children in Reindeer Woods' is a very powerful book. There's a fairy tale quality that lightens the mood, making child's play of the almost inhuman violence. Yes, it is obviously anti-war, but it never slides into didacticism. It prances playfully through the blood. It places the reader in an ethically gray area. We must approach the book with the nativity of the narrator, which is made easier by ...more
World Literature Today
"The mood is disconcerting. Children in Reindeer Woods, Kristín Ómarsdóttir’s first novel to be translated from Icelandic into English, remains unsettling to the very end." - Shaun Randol, New York

This book was reviewed in the November 2012 issue of World Literature Today. Read the full review by visiting our website:
My three-star rating is a placeholder and will likely be adjusted up. I'm not sure I really understand this book, but the writing was lovely, albeit slightly uncomfortable at moments. I'm really not sure what to make of it. I need time to think about it and time to discuss it with friends in the Worlds Lit group, which is why I read this.
This is an anti-government, anti-war fable set in modern times. Though I can't say I truly enjoyed the book, it was definitely thought provoking.
Feb 05, 2013 rated it it was amazing
It seems like quite an idyllic life there on the farm for Rafael and Billie. He's a retired soldier, she has just turned eleven --- although a very astute eleven (she can discourse on the fifth article of the declaration of human rights).

There is a cow to milk, a cat to cuddle with, chickens to feed, eggs to gather, crops to grow. The ground is fertile, the farm is isolated, there in Reindeer Woods.

In the time we are with them, there are only four visitors, including a nun who promptly falls in
Literary Review The
Feb 06, 2013 rated it it was amazing
By Jena Salon

For The Literary Review
Spring 2012 "Encyclopedia Britannica"

One day recently I was out hiking with my husband in the woods by our new house,
and we came upon a stranger. At first he pointed in the direction of our house and
asked us if we knew the people who had bought it. It seemed to me he already had
to know the answer or else he wouldn’t be asking. But we live in a small town, and
people are nosy but polite, so we introduced ourselves and tried to be friendly. He
asked about ou
Nov 18, 2017 rated it really liked it
4.2 stars. It's a funny thing; I started this book over 6 months ago with some enthusiasm, ran out of gas about 80 pages in, and set the book aside for months. (Returned it to the library in fact.) Then the urge to read it just struck again, and I (re-checked the book out and) read the whole book in little more than a day. It's quite an experience. One needs to overlook certain infelicities in the dialogue, and you need to wear your "fable/fairytale" hat while reading, as continually as you poss ...more
Jaredjosephjaredjoseph harveyharvey
Abraham cut the unwritten pages out and closed the book. Four years later, Soffia opened door number twelve and looked with such great interest at the thin face of Abraham that she ran into an old coat-rack and knocked it over. She stooped, righted it, and looked up at the man. He never forgot the eyes he saw.
Crimes do not exist. I say the same thing about love. If I didn't forget you, I can thank my own particular memory, said Abraham, a few years later.
One loves out of habit, a god complex,
Aug 05, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: iceland
The first thing about this novel of note is that is written by an Icelandic author but does not take place in Iceland but rather in an (unnamed country) at war. The book begins with great violence but ends in a strange and other-wordly peace. Nothing in this book makes a great deal of sense but it doesn't matter. Suspend belief and enjoy a beautifully written and crafted book.
Jun 27, 2012 rated it liked it
This is translated from Icelandic, which always complicates things in terms of diction and style. But still.


Billie, an 11-year-old girl, is sent to a summer camp in Reindeer Woods, presumably while her parents deal with her father's mental illness, her mother's depression, and life in general. There's a war on, which we discover when the camp is taken over by three soldiers who kill everyone but Billie. One of the three, Rafael, then kills the other two, and from then on Billie and Raf
Gemma Alexander
Feb 04, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: iceland
I don’t understand it at all. Like everything else I’ve read by an Icelandic author, Children in Reindeer Woods has a flat, matter of fact tone to it. Reindeer Woods feels like an extended riff on James Clavell’s The Children’s Story, except I think it might actually be making the opposite point. Sagas and Laxness excepted, all of the Icelandic books I’ve read have been short enough to read in a sitting, or two days at most. All of them have a spare elegance I associate with 20th century Japanes ...more
Jan 22, 2013 rated it really liked it
What to say about this book.... Well, I liked it. It was almost like reading a hallucination. A girl is left to stay at this temporary children's home while her mother and father (who is actually an alien-controlled puppet) go...somewhere. Her life turns upside down when these three paratroopers show up at the house (they ARE in a war zone, after all) and murder everyone except her. A particularly violent member of this group goes a step further and murders his comrades so that he can give up hi ...more
Aug 06, 2012 rated it really liked it
The reviews I have read so far, including the NYT one that drew me to this book, can't seem to get beyond the novel's distubing premisse. Here's me trying.

I think the crux of it is in the articulation between nature and culture. And it appears to be fairly complex. From the little we know about the soldier's past, he joined the army to gain a semblance of purpose to his life. He learns to value cleanliness, order, army etiquette and respect for rank and structure. The paradox is that social str
Apr 23, 2013 rated it liked it
"Children in Reindeer Woods" is sort of an absurdist fairy tale. Billie is in a temporary home for children when soldiers appear and kill everyone in the home but her. One of the soldiers then turns on his fellows, kills them, then buries them all, dog included, in the yard. Thus begins the bizarre relationship of Billie and Rafael. Rafael wants to renounce being a soldier and reinvent himself as a farmer but complications get in the way. Meanwhile Billie has to define her relationship with Rafa ...more
Sally Whitehead
Jul 14, 2013 rated it liked it
Um. Where to begin?

In the midst of an unidentifiable war, paratroopers arrive at a farmhouse "temporary home for children", resulting swiftly and somewhat senselessly (within the first few pages in fact) with the only two remaining characters being 11 year old Billie, and her new "guardian" Rafael, a young, complex and contradictory soldier.

A wonderfully intriguing premise which leads to a rather beguiling little story, though the lack of any concrete plot and real structure means the term "sto
Sep 06, 2013 rated it liked it
Since a time period or place is not offered as you enter this book, you assume you've entered the holocaust. But then you realize there are televisions and other signs that you are in a later time, with no clues or way to get more specific. You are in a timeless fable. But the horrors of war are familiar, and the questioning persistent optimism of our child heroine rings true in an absolutely outlandish way.
Sep 14, 2012 rated it really liked it
Recommended to Beth by: Ferris
Rating: 4 1/2 stars.

Children in Reindeer Woods is a darkly exotic tale by the Icelandic author, Kristin Omarsdottir. This is one of ten (10) foreign authors published yearly by the Open Letter Press via the University of Rochester. Their purpose is to expose influential international writers. These books can be ordered on: They publish an amazing variety of authors. Readers are truly missing something if they have not explored these books.
Sep 04, 2012 rated it it was amazing
This modern day fable has a dramatic, frightening opening and is then followed by a strange tale of a soldier who is tired of war, and an 11 year old girl who is wise beyond her years yet still a child, and how they help one another. It is a disturbing and thought provoking story by an Icelandic author whose work I haven't read before. I will be looking for more!
Chad Post
Nov 03, 2011 rated it really liked it
DISCLAIMER: I am the publisher of the book and thus spent approximately two years reading and editing and working on it. So take my review with a grain of salt, or the understanding that I am deeply invested in this text and know it quite well. Also, I would really appreciate it if you would purchase this book, since it would benefit Open Letter directly.
Mar 28, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: first-read
Eleven-year-old Billie lives at a " home for abandonded children"
Much to Billie's suprise it is in the middle of a war zone.
When a small group of soldiers kill everyone who lives there with her,
and then each other, Billie is forced to make the best of the violence, and her new caretaker troubled Rafael, who decides to abandon his army and become a farmer,
Michele Heine
Jan 20, 2016 rated it it was ok
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
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Kristín grew up in Hafnarfjörður. She studied Literature and Spanish at the University of Iceland, then pursued Spanish at the Universities of Barcelona and Copenhagen. She has published poetry, novels, short stories and plays.
Her first publication was the poetry book Í húsinu okkar er þoka (There is Fog in Our House) in 1987, and her first novel, Svartir brúðarkjólar (Black Wedding Dresses) came
“People should be entrusted with their own lives. People must be independent in every respect. No one should own anything. Property should be free like people are. The roads should not belong to any one person, in order to stop someone from collecting tolls from travelers. A priest shouldn't take a toll for prayers. A farmhand shouldn't take a toll for the fruits of the earth. The phone company shouldn't take a toll for conversations. Totally free of charge, like the fetus's time inside the mother continues to be after its birth.” 1 likes
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