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The Old Man and His Sons

3.76  ·  Rating details ·  474 ratings  ·  66 reviews
The story of people living on the remote Faroe Islands in the North Sea, and their lives and struggles, tragedies and laughter. It tells the tale of the transformation of a rural society into a modern nation of fisheries and the conflicts between generations that result.
Kindle Edition, 166 pages
Published May 1st 2013 by Telegram Books (first published 1940)
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Average rating 3.76  · 
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What a strange reaction I'm having to this book.

"Tragicomical" is the first word that comes to mind as I flail around for an explanation. If The Old Man and His Sons does anything, it makes the reader uncomfortable. I didn't know whether to laugh or cringe as I read the book. As I approached the end, I thought that my feelings might resolve themselves, but now, in the post-reading pondering, I'm still baffled. Was the novel supposed to elicit pity for the pathetic characters or some kind of quai
Eric Anderson
Jan 14, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Over the New Year period some friends and I went to the Faroe Islands for a short holiday. These are a remote group of islands to the north of Scotland (although it’s an autonomous territory within the Kingdom of Denmark.) We wanted to go somewhere unique and remote. Often when I travel to new places I like to find translated literature from that location to read while I'm there. So I was delighted to discover “The Old Man and His Sons” which is a Faroese novel first published in 1940. The autho ...more
Jenny (Reading Envy)
This book was too short, and over too soon! It took a long time to track down a book written in the Faroe Islands that had actually been translated into English. This was written in the 1940s, depicting a quickly fading "old way" of living as a Faroese Islander. Brutal whale hunt, brutal living, but debt-free!

This is a simple story with memorable characters, but tends to drive home the message of the old ways having value and being disregarded a little too forcefully.

Because the Faroe Islands a
Richard Derus
Feb 23, 2016 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: owned
My review for Translation Thursday: THE OLD MAN AND HIS SONS by Heðin Brú (good luck pronouncing that one!) translated from Faroese (no really, it's a language).

I'll leave the whole review on my blog for a week or so.
Mark Staniforth
Apr 29, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Heoin Bru's 'The Old Man And His Sons' is a beautiful, gripping chronicle of the daily struggle for survival on the Faroe Islands, a huddle of storm-ravaged specks of rock in the north Atlantic.

First published in Faroese in 1940, the book was translated into English by New York publishers Eriksson in 1970, and has been unearthed and re-published this year, to their tremendous credit, by translation experts Telegram.

Like the book itself, it's a venture worthy of great praise. This is a stunning a
Jan 19, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: novels, translations
It was hard to read this portrait of modernity encroaching on tradition in the Faroe Islands without recalling other, perhaps better known novels that have grappled with similar material (and happen to be among my own favorites). Not for long, though, because Heðin Brú's The Old Man And His Sons is very much its own book. Its fatalism bears a lighter touch than the bleakness of Halldór Laxness' Iceland, and is more down-to-earth than the religion and mysticism of George Mackay Brown's Orkney sto ...more
This story takes place on the Faeroe Islands. The Faroe or Faeroe Islands are a North Atlantic archipelago located 200 mi north-northwest of Scotland, and about halfway between Norway and Iceland.

Whale hunting, aka a whale drive, is our first encounter of action on the island. The old man Ketil, hitched a ride on a boat with his son, Kalvur. We learn how the hunt occurs. It was a blood bath.

But the real story is the conflict between the old ways of the parents and the new way of the sons (and th
Opening - A school of blackfish is in Seyvrágs Fjord - two or three hundred small whales, swimming silently round in little groups, and longing to be backin the broad ocean again, for this is not the way they intended to go.
Sep 28, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Gives a brilliant, human and succinct insight into an obscure world: that of a family and community living in the transition out of one of the last subsistence economies of Western Europe, seventy years ago in the Faroe Islands. As a premise that sounds academic, but this book is as easy to follow and as eventful as a soap (an interesting and non-sensationalist one: more Archers than Corrie). The writer was born in the Faroes in 1901 and lived there all his life.

The changing times are illustrate
This was one of those books that leapt out of the huge list of the books people had already found for their own Around the World list. Scrolling down the page: Estonia, Ethiopia, Equatorial Guinea, Faroe Islands, Fiji…. Hold on what? The Faroes? There are books written about or in the Faroes? I have to read it!

So on I went, and ordered the book and it arrived in the giant shopping spree of parcels I had delivered to work (the postman was very grateful I was solely keeping him in a job). And then
When he was outside, he brushed away a tear from his cheek. "Young people these days have such strange ways. I just don't know where I stand."
Kobe Bryant
Id definitely rather work in an office than take to the sea
Craig Rowland
May 02, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The Old Man and His Sons by Heðin Brú is another classic of Faroese literature. This novel was first published in 1940, and unlike Barbara, which was originally written in Danish, Brú's novel was written in Faroese. It was translated by John F. West. I read it over three days as I could not put it down. It had me laughing as I turned the pages and that was probably one of the main reasons the Faroese voted it their Book of the Twentieth Century.

Ketil, his unnamed wife and youngest son Kálvur li
Around the world = Faroe Islands.

The Old Man And His Sons by Heðin Brú is an account of the daily struggle for survival in a rural village on the wave-washed Faroe Islands, set against creeping modernisation of the society. The opening chapter details the grindadráp, the communal whale hunt, in all its bloody magnificence. Drunk and adrenaline-fueled by the kill, Ketil, the old man of the title, buys a huge chunk of whale meat beyond his means, and with the assistance of his (as he sees it) feck
A book that subtly describes the coming of the modern world and the slow disappearing of the old ways of living for the Faroe Islanders.
The book is a series of events - the hunting and killing of a whale pod (the most dramatic part of the book), the anguish of the father saddled with a major debt, a fishing trip, scavenging for driftwood, the borrowing of a horse, the death of an old friend, the scheming of a lazy neighbour, the shooting of a seal, trading for a piece of wood to make an oar, etc
Jun 10, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: novels, faroe-islands
It's not a brilliant novel, but it is very meaningful. I really liked the realism with which the author described the ordinary life of Faroese people in the middle of the last century, the clash between the traditional life and a more modern ways brought by international fishing to Faroe Islands. If you think your life is tough, just read this book. ...more
Really nice discovery this one. Set in the Faroe Islands and written in 1940 , it tells the fascinating, touching, at times amusing, often bemusing but ultimately extremely revealing story of Ketil, the Old Man and his wife the Old Woman. Ketil is a loveable old Faroese man whose brutally hard, traditional way of life has been unchanged for centuries. He lives with his wife and youngest son in a two room leaky, turf roofed house where chickens roost in the beams of the kitchen, where spitting on ...more
Bill Murray
Jan 21, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was a specialty read, preparatory to a trip to the Faroe Islands in two months.

Set vaguely in the first third of the 20th century, The Old Man and His Son is a vivid snapshot of island life among the common, rural folk of the day.

The narrative returns again and again to a comparison of the way things have always been done with the newfangled, high-falutin' ways of kids-these-days through the eyes of Ketil, the main character. In Ketil's world the sea provides, roofs leak and conveniences
Dec 06, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction, faroese
Faroese novel, published in 1940, following an elderly couple bamboozled by all things modern, particularly debt. Their sustainable lifestyle in a tumbledown house, making do and mending, is laughed at by the younger people. With a great deal of dark humour it paints a vivid picture of a remote community at a time of change.
Katya Kazbek
Mar 07, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I wanted to read a book from the Faroe Islands, to become exposed to the region's literature, and get a feel for the place. I got what I wanted in this novel, and then some. It's a subtle, short, and efficiently written story about the clash of old age with youth, of the province with the empire, and of preindustrial society with capitalism. Heart-wrenching, funny, and very atmospheric. ...more
Oct 14, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: classic, favorites, 2014
I enjoyed every bit of this book. It was refreshingly different in tone and attitude - so good to read something from another culture every so often, to learn about the lives lived in other places and times. Excellent writing. I would write more but am short of time.
Oct 25, 2017 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
No need to beat around the bush. I hated this book. I should have just quit when I realized that I hated this book, which was 4 pages into it. I kept reading on principle. The Old Man and His Sons is one of like... 9 books in the entire history of Faroese literature that's been translated into English. I wanted to read this book before I went to the Faroe Islands, and unfortunately, it wasn't available in Canada. Then, despite going to every single bookstore in the tiny country, I didn't actuall ...more
Aug 29, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I like to think about lost places; out of the way corners that are the opposite of epicenter yet where lives still continue though they have no knowledge of Paris and Washington DC. Timbuktu forgotten in the sand; Lubero captured by the high jungle; Coro hugging the pristine beaches.

The Faroe Islands

Did you know there’s a self-governing protectorate of the Kingdom of Denmark halfway between England and Iceland? Colonized by Vikings in the 700s and Christianized in 1100; the hearty residents have
Ian Russell
Feb 28, 2021 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Without planning to, I’ve been reading two books concurrently on island life: “The Old Man and his Sons” and an account of a man deliberately casting himself on a deserted island amongst The Cook Islands. Both are set in the 1950s and both deal with a kind of subsistence living at the mercy of “God” and the elements. Thereafter, any similarities become tenuous; the two islands are like chalk and cheese: one harsh and severe, the other a tropical paradise; one an exercise in escapism from other p ...more
May 08, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
In preparation for a trip which includes the Faroe Islands, I was anxious to read literature by a Faroese author. This book was written in 1940, but apart from the mention of "phones" it might well have been written in the 19th century. The story centers on an old man of 70, Ketil, who with his wife had 11 children, all but one of whom has married and left home. Kalv, the remaining son, is somewhat a dimwit, lazy, whiney and fearful. While Ketil's older sons have established more comfortable an ...more
Nina ( picturetalk321 )
An unexpectedly entertaining and moreish tale of life in a fishing community on the Faroe islands in the 1940s.

First, there's the whole Faroe milieu. I've never read anything written by an author from those islands and, indeed, had to confirm their exact location on the map. I also hadn't known that Faroese is a language of its own. So there was the sheer smug sense of reading something "niche".

Second, the Faroese milieu described is almost comically what one would expect of a traditional Euro
Kathryn  Bullen
Dec 07, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
What an evocative book set in the Faroes in the 1940s. With powerful observation, Bru depicts the harsh yet steady traditional ways of living off the land and sea, which seem very much at odds with modern ways, with a consequential fragmentation of society into the old and new. The older characters are more likeable than the younger ones, yet the situation is desperate for those clinging onto the old ways - refusing to use a motorboat and rowing out to fish, for example. And yet the slower pace ...more
Ana Cretu
Mar 09, 2021 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This was brilliant. First of all because it introduced me to an obscure and secluded world, of which I know little to nothing about. I am grateful for the translation from Faroese to English, which I understand is quite an ordeal.
The writing is so simple, natural and unpretentious, just like the world it depicts. It speaks about changing times, about old ways vs. new ways. It starts with this fascinating whale hunt in a local fjord, and goes through Faroese villages and households, and lives of
Jon Nguyen
Jun 10, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
When you grow older and see the world changing in ways that you don't like, is the problem with you, or with the world? This is a fine little novel that poses this question.

There don't seem to be too many books about he Faroe Islands, and so I was happy to find this one. It does a good job of capturing what life was like some time ago there, and gives a sense of how life has changed on the islands since then. That said, the questions the book raises are universal, no matter where you live.

"So mu
Apr 01, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
“Yes, Ketil...You are a man of the old school, a modest and peaceful man, thankful for the things you have received.”

Expertly translated by John F. West, The Old Man & His Sons is, at times, a brutal read. Dark & deeply tragic, this short but powerful novel is fronted by the memorable lead of Ketil, a seventy-year old Faroese grandfather & peasant-fisherman. I found his story even more moving than The Fish Can Sing, by Halldor Laxness. If you’re looking for the original “Scandì-noir,” look no fu
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