Published by Peirene Press
Publication date – 30 September 2018
Source – review copy
Translated from the Icelandic by Bjørg Arnadottir and Andrew Cauthery.
In this story we hear the voices of an Icelandic fishing village. On a summer’s day a young woman in a polka-dot dress cycles down the main street. Her name is Kata and she is the village choir conductor. As she passes, we glimpse the members of the village: a priest with a gambling habit, an old brother and sister who have not talked for years, and a sea captain who has lost his son. But perhaps the most interesting story of all belongs to the young woman on the bicycle. Why is she reticent to talk about her past?
Kata is cycling through the streets of a small Icelandic village, on her way to choir. As she passes she sees the village inhabitants. In the two minutes it takes her to ride past we are given brief insights into the lives of the villagers.
The book is really a series of short stories, vignettes giving insight into the lives of the various inhabitants of the village, pulled together by the string that is Kata, cycling by and the wind that blows through the streets year after year.
We are with each character for only a moment, the whole story taking place over the two minutes it takes for Kata to ride past each character. However we see far more than a mere glimpse into those lives. There is the woman who finds old photos to load on social media whilst she waits for her son to call. There’s the man who shuts out the world for a week each year so he can drink himself into an oblivion in the hopes of erasing his past. There’s the gambling priest, who forgets the world outside his online casino and there’s the restaurant owner, wandering the street, forgetting why he is out, and why he no longer speaks to the sister he is just about to bump into.
In each tale there are traumas and sadness, love found and love lost. There are links to other villagers, forgotten secrets, regrets and shared memories, recalled slightly differently depending on the person remembering them. Some are lonely despite being surrounded by people and others are content with being alone.
This is a very poetical book. The chapters seem almost lyrical in nature at times. They also paint a rounded picture of the life of the village, what drives it and what holds it back. I often find there is something magical about stories set in Iceland and this novella was no different. There is something ethereal and slightly fairytale like about the book, which added to my appreciation of it.
I did lose track of how some of the characters interlinked but that didn’t spoil my enjoyment of the book. Rather I just went where the wind took me, as the chapters flowed onto one another,
The opening chapter of this novella is narrated by the wind, rolling in off the ocean, visiting every house in the village, repeatedly over the years. The reader is then taken on a short journey to see what the wind sees. And we are reminded that the wind does see all.