A man takes his terminally ill daughter whale-watching. An aging musician performs at a beauty contest with Rod Stewart, and learns how he missed his one shot at fame. In the title story, two brothers fight over a woman—with disastrous consequences. The novella “Gaga,” first translated into English in 1988 and described as a “sci-fi Don Quixote,” follows a man who believes that his ordinary surroundings in Reykjavík conceal a sinister Martian plot.
In these ten stories, award-winning Icelandic author Ólafur Gunnarsson depicts the inner lives of his countrymen with stark, brutal clarity. Blending the domestic and the surreal, the comic and the tragic, Gunnarsson’s taut language creates a world readers will find at once fascinatingly alien and surprisingly familiar.
PRAISE FOR ÓLAFUR GUNNARSSON
“Gunnarsson writes clear, unadorned prose, with an emphasis on a given situation that moves relentlessly toward its conclusion. Characterization is so minimized that many of his people remain nameless. The stories range from the domestic to the wacky, from sibling rivalry to attentive or menacing parents, from artists young and old to one ‘has been’ musician caught up in a beauty contest. His characters inhabit a stark world of limited choices and personal failure, where, in one stroke, comedy and tragedy might clasp hands. In the Anglo Saxon world, cheerfulness and hypocrisy often times conceal menace, which hides—to paraphrase Harold Pinter—like ’a weasel in a cabinet.’ In Gunnarsson’s sometime surreal realm, the weasel is there for all to see; this is not a place where sham decorum thrives.“
— CATHERINE BROWDER
“Iceland is a different world. In his short stories, Ólafur Gunnarsson describes the differences, but then makes the connection to Europe and the rest of the world. No man is an island—but the Icelandic point of view, the Icelandic experience, is the raw material which this great writer draws upon. Here are some sharply-observed, contemporary stories of Iceland, in bathos and beauty. But the best story of all, the title story, transcends all local and provincial limitations, becoming a universal story that Chekhov himself would have recognized.”
— MICHAEL HIRST
writer of Elizabeth, starring Cate Blanchett, and The History Channel’s Vikings
“Ólafur Gunnarsson is one of the sharpest, most sympathetic of Iceland´s novelists . . . at the heart of a Gunnarson novel [is] a profoundly human turmoil.”
— JULIAN EVANS
author of Transit of Venus and Semi-Invisible Man: The Life of Norman Lewis
“Ólafur Gunnarsson is a masterful storyteller. His tales depict family intrigue with a skill, depth, and haunting quality that grasps the reader’s attention and holds it tight.”
— VALERIE HEMINGWAY
author of Running with the Bulls: My Years with the Hemingways
“This new short story collection by Ólafur Gunnarsson hums with Icelandic life. The reader slips effortlessly into a fully realized world inhabited by characters that have failed to achieve their dreams. Ólafur Gunnarsson cannot disguise his tender heart. His characters are in safe hands, and, in these ten carefully-crafted tales, they often head off in directions you cannot second-guess.”
— JOANNE MARSHALL MAULDIN
author of Thomas Wolfe: When Do the Atrocities Begin?