Heaven and Hell

Book: Heaven and Hell

Author: Jón Kalman Stefánsson

Around the World: Iceland


The Boy and his friend Bardur are heading out to go Cod fishing, a dangerous occupation in Iceland, where noone can swim, and you would freeze to death if you got too wet anyway. As well as being younger than the rest of the crew, they are different because they love to read- the words, the poetry, the images brought up- they love it all.

When tragedy strikes, and Bardur dies, the boy is lost. He decides to take a book back to the old man they borrowed it from, and considers lying down in the snow and dying on the way. Or maybe going over a cliff after he returns it. Nothing he used to enjoy brings any joy any more. But as he comes to the town and interacts with a few inhabitants, there is a small part of his mind that wants to hold onto life. He is still unsure what to do with his life, but he has a place that he can at least temporarily call home.

Stark, harsh, cold and wet. They are the words I would use to describe the picture that Stefansson paints of Iceland in the early 20th century. It is astounding the conditions that people put up with – you always wonder why they didn’t move to a better place, but I suppose when that is all you have known, that is what you think is normal.


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