Updated: Aug 20
By Heather Goodman Lytwyn
Kristín Marja Baldursdóttir has been writing since she was seven years old. She was writing during her work as a teacher and a journalist and during the years she raised her daughters. She received her degree from the University of Iceland in the fields of German and Icelandic. Her first novel Mávahlátur (Seagull’s Laughter), was published in 1995 and was developed into a play and a film.
Between 1995 and 2020, Kristín Marja published 11 novels that flew off Europe's shelves. Her books have been translated from Icelandic into German, Dutch, Danish, Norwegian, and Swedish. Her German releases sold tens of thousands of copies. The translation rights to Karitas án titils were sold before the novel was published in the original Icelandic. Her works have been translated into German and are found on bookshelves and libraries in many parts of Europe. But it was not until 2022 that her works were translated into English. That year, Philip Roughton took the poetry and vision of Kristín Marja’s 6th novel and gave the English-speaking world the gift of Karitas Untitled.
This novel will have you hooked in the first sentence: “Take this child from me. I am about to lose my wits.” After a captivating, intense scene, there is this poetic description of a pencil drawing: “The clothesline sang in the icy air as the sisters touched it. The aprons that they had hung to dry had snuggled together in the cold and transformed into a tangled, frozen clump. A sea wind had lashed the aprons during the night, and the sisters tried to work out its methods.”(p 4). These poetic “pictures” are found throughout the novel. It takes a while to realize that every chapter opens with a visual image that ties into the book's title: Karitas Untitled.
The novel takes you to Iceland in 1915, and you travel with the characters until 1939. You are drawn in by the struggles within a family and delighted by the visual descriptions seen through the main character’s artistic eyes. This work is peppered with references to Iceland's culture, customs, and history: the threads that we look for to give us a deeper understanding of our ancestors.
Karitas Untitled will cause readers to reflect on how far women’s rights have come since the early 20th century. This could lead to an interesting discussion at our book club in September. “Although set in the twentieth century, Karitas’s story speaks to the trials of a modern woman as well – how to balance children and art, how to care for a home while your husband is absent, how to love a man who is bad for you but who says all the right things. No matter what time we live in, love and relationships and our calling in life are difficult, and her story reflects that of all women, past and present, Icelandic and beyond. It also reflects the female experience of bonding with other women in times of trouble to make it all work out, even if it means taking a long way around.”
– San Francisco Book Review
How will Kristín Marja be able to join us when it is midnight in Iceland during our Zoom meeting?
Later this month, a small team from Icelandic Roots will make a tape with the author and translator. Kristín Marja will read an excerpt in Icelandic, and then Philip will read the same passage in English. We will ask the author a few questions about her life and writing; about her father’s interest in art, a painting in a Spanish art museum that gave birth to the main character, and how her grandmother is connected to the phrase “the long way around.” We will begin the book club with this tape which will then prompt a discussion with those who have logged on. Members of Icelandic Roots will be sent a link to the book club in their emails the day before on September 7th.
How can members keep up with reading a book a month?
If you have access to a library that networks with others, you could request the book in advance to ensure you get a copy. Consider giving the list of upcoming books to a local bookstore in hopes they would order them for their store. You could look on Amazon or abebooks.com and order the book to be delivered to your house. Digital versions are often a less expensive alternative or try an audiobook or network with friends to share. And of course, you do not have to read the books to join our book club sessions, but hopefully, the book club will inspire you to become more informed about all the fantastic books written by Icelanders and /or about “our people.”
I look forward to seeing you and connecting with our Icelandic cousins in North America, and for those who are still up in daylight at midnight in Iceland on September 8th. We begin at 5 pm Pacific, 6 pm Mountain, 7 pm Central, and 8 pm Eastern.