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Icelandic Roots July Book Club Selection

By Heather Lytwyn

Be Still the Water, by Karen Emilson is the focus of the next Icelandic Roots Book Club members' event on July 7, 2022. Please join us online at 7 pm CDT to ask Karen questions and to hear her read an excerpt from the novel.

Karen was thrilled to be invited as the second author featured in the Icelandic Roots Book Club. She has often been asked to book club meetings and enjoys the interaction, so I know she is looking forward to talking with all of you. Karen was born and raised in southern Ontario. She spent all her free time as a child reading books and writing stories, dreaming of becoming a writer one day.

In 1982 Karen married an Icelander, came to Manitoba as a young bride, and settled in an Icelandic farming and fishing community. Karen spent little time in the fields or on the lake but instead was employed as a rural newspaper reporter.

This work led to her first two publications, which became Canadian best-sellers inspired by the story of twin brothers whose stepfather subjected them to years of abuse. They vowed to tell their account if they survived, and Karen helped them do that. The first book, Where Children Run, was published in 1996. The sequel, When Memory Remains, published in 2001, revealed that the boys were able to let go of their painful past by using love and forgiveness to find true happiness.

This brings us to her next book, Be Still the Water, the historical fiction set in the early 20th century. One inspiration for this novel was the Manitoba flood of 2001. Much like the news footage seen this year in Manitoba, we can imagine the compassion Karen must have felt for the people who had once been her neighbors, watching the water flood their farmlands and endangering their livestock. Their plight inspired her to revisit a fictional story she had started ten years earlier about the Icelandic immigrants who first settled in Manitoba in the early part of the 20th century and the hardships they endured.

Because Be Still the Water begins in 1906, four years before my father’s birth mother immigrated from Iceland; I was intrigued to gain a better understanding of what Manitoba was like for my ancestors. The book immediately drew me in and will always be one of my favorites. But I am not alone. Here are a few lines from one review published on Amazon:

“ …. Her characters are so real you just want to rush over to meet them and visit with them. This is a story of love for family, for place, for heritage, and for friends. It is also a good history of Icelandic immigrants in rural Canada, something I knew nothing about and now want to know about. Historical fiction requires a lot of research …[and] the detail in this book takes you into the time and place so well you can feel the breeze from the lake, smell the fish and taste the coffee in the kitchen……don’t plan on anything to do after you begin reading the book as you will not be able to stop reading it until it’s finished, it’s just that good. The story had it all, laughter, tears, joy and sadness.”

Those who have only read the opening chapters of this novel will already have fallen in love with the characters. Like me, those of you who could not put the book down will be thrilled to know that Karen is working on sequels that include some of these characters.

Be Still the Water was listed in the Icelandic Roots 2021 Book Flood. Here is the synopsis:

Canada, 1906. Teenager Asta Gudmundsson has immigrated with her family to an Icelandic farming and fishing community along the unspoiled shores of Lake Manitoba. There she falls deeply in love with Bjorn and after a night of violence that leaves Asta broken, the pair make a silent pledge to never speak again.

With help from her mystical, high-spirited grandmother, Asta begins to rebuild her inner world until the unthinkable happens - her beloved sister Freyja disappears. As war is declared in Europe and the man she loves enlists, Asta must make a choice; stay safely at home or set out to find Freyja.

Inspired by true events, Be Still the Water is a vivid, coming-of-age epic complete with unforgettable characters and a heart-wrenching ending - one that will leave you reflecting on Asta's fateful decisions long after the last page is turned.

This is an Icelandic Roots member-only event.

If you are of Icelandic descent and would like to become a member, go to:

Next month the book club meets August 4th to discuss The Tricking of Freya, by Christina Sunley.


Email us your questions or join the conversation on our Facebook Group.

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