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The sight of her father is the worst. Had Ingrid not known better she might have thought he was afraid, and he never is. Islanders are never afraid, if they were they wouldn’t be able to live here, they would have to pack their goods and chattels and move and be like everyone else in the forests and valleys, it would be a catastrophe, islanders have a dark disposition, they are beset not with fear but solemnity.

You mileage may vary, but the most beautiful place I've ever been was out on a glacier in Iceland. As far as the horizon extended in any direction all you could see was ice and snow, occasionally topping a promontory (other than the Youngest, the Wife, our guide, and 4x4). The barrenness and isolation were profoundly intimidating--even knowing you were just a ride away from safety--but the vistas were stunning and the purity unmatchable. Travel to other parts of the island you are confronted by geysers, hot springs, volcanic remains, and lakes and seas. But dotted everywhere are lonely farmsteads, flocks of sheep, horses and cod drying in the sun and wind. The thought of settlers clawing a livelihood from this environment for well over a thousand years beggars belief. It is the challenge that entailed that makes the Icelandic sagas at one so heroic and so mundane.

Little surprise then that Norwegian author Roy Jacobsen credits the sagas as a major influence and sets this first book of a trilogy on an imaginary island, much like actual ones off the coast of his own country. The tiny Barrøy family wrestles a living from the island named for them and from the sea that surrounds them. Ingrid is a young girl growing up on the island attending school in a village on the mainland. She lives with her parents, grandfather, and a slowish young aunt who is sent to the mainland for work but brought back by her protective brother: "Nobody can leave an island."

The irony of not being able (willing) to choose another way of life even as they are brutalized by nature is the theme of the story. Finding someone else's lost fishing nets washed up on your beach is a great event, while losing your own in a storm is a catastrophe. You can't get ahead and if you do disaster looms anyway. But still, we are beguiled by their lives, no matter how hardscrabble. One is reminded of books like How Green Was My Valley which make us nostalgic for a way of life we are thankful to have escaped.


Grade: (A)


See also:

General Literature
Roy Jacobsen Links:

    -WIKIPEDIA: Roy Jacobsen
    -FILMOGRAPHY: Roy Jacobsen (IMDB)
    -READERS GUIDE: The Unseen (Reading Groups)
    -EXCERPT: from The Unseen (Lit hub)
    -ESSAY: Roy Jacobsen on the Backbone of Nordic Literature: the Sagas of Iceland (Roy Jacobsen, August 14, 2019, Lit Hub)
    -BOOK LIST: Essential Norwegian Fiction (recommended by Roy Jacobsen, Five books)
    -ESSAY: "The Saga of Njal contains everything needed for the difficult task of becoming a human being" (Roy Jacobsen, Icelandic Literature Center)
    -AUDIO INTERVIEW: Norwegian author Roy Jacobsen and translator Don Bartlett talk about the shortlisted novel (BBC)
    -INTERVIEW: The Unseen interview (The Booker Prizes, 06/04/2017)
    -INTERVIEW: Roy Jacobsen: Nostalgia's a scar that's good to scratch : Roy Jacobsen, the Norwegian author of The Unseen was one among many foreign guests at the Margó Festival of Literature and Book Fair autumn 2018 in Budapest. Here's Jacobsen on Scandinavia, sentimentality, nationalism and man vs. nature in an interview with Gerg? Melhardt. (Gerg? Melhardt, 9th November, 2018, Hungarian Literature Online)
    -INTERVIEW: Roy Jacobsen (Book Group Info)
-ESSAY: Reframing history: Fiction and testimony in Roy Jacobsen's the loggers (P. Sjølyst-Jackson, July 2013)
    -REVIEW ARCHIVE: Roy Jacobsen (Kirkus)
    -REVIEW ARCHIVE: Roy Jacobsen books (Historical Novel Society)
    -REVIEW: of The Unseen by Roy Jacobsen (Justine Jordan, The Guardian)
    -REVIEW: of The Unseen (Eileen Battersby, Irish Times)
    -REVIEW: of The Unseen (Kathleen Rooney, Star Tribune)
    -REVIEW: of The Unseen (Publishers Weekly)
    -REVIEW: of The Unseen (India Today)
    -REVIEW: of The Unseen (Thor A. Larsen, The Norwegian American)
    -REVIEW: of The Unseen (Tom Graham, Financial Times)
    -REVIEW: of The Unseen (Misha Hoekstra, EuroLit Network)
    -REVIEW: of the Unseen (Sam Thoburn, The 730 Review)
    -REVIEW: of The Unseen (Kirkus)
    -REVIEW: of The Unseen (Anusua Mukherjee, The Hindu)
    -REVIEW: of The Unseen (Michelle Anne Schingler, Foreword Reviews)
    -REVIEW: of The Unseen (Alphabetty Spaghetty)
    -REVIEW: of The Unseen (Winston's Dad's Blog)
    -REVIEW: of The Unseen (Julia, Back of Beyond Books)
    -REVIEW: of The unseen (Lizzy's Literary Life)
    -REVIEW: of Borders by Roy Jacobsen (Publishers Weekly)
    -REVIEW: of Borders (World Literature Today)
    -REVIEW: of Borders (Jeff Amos, Sycamore Review)
    -REVIEW: of White Shadow By Roy Jacobsen (Paul Binding, Literary Review)
    -REVIEW: of White Shadow (Daniel Marc Janes, TLS)
    -REVIEW: of White Shadow (Lizzy Siddal, Euro Lit Network)
    -REVIEW: of White Shadow (Book Munch)
    -REVIEW: of Child Wonder by Roy Jacobsen (Paul Binding, The independent)
    -REVIEW: of Child Wonder (Emma Schneider, Full Stop)
    -REVIEW: of Child Wonder (Mary Whipple Reviews)
    -REVIEW: of Child Wonder (Kevin Stark, ZYZZYVA)
    -REVIEW: of Eyes of the Rigel by Roy Jacobsen (Theodora Danek, The Guardian)
    -REVIEW: of Eyes of the Rigel (Tony's Reading List)
    -REVIEW: of Eyes of the Rigel (Johanne Elster Hanson, TLS)

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