Posts Tagged ‘Iceland’

Best ‘New to Us’ Books in 2014: Radhika R’s Picks

December 30, 2014

Albert Einstein said  that “Imagination is more important  than intelligence!”  Books fire that imagination for me! Books make me think, laugh, empathize and take me through a gamut of emotions. I travel around the world from the the comfort of my couch!  Here are a few of them which I enjoyed reading.

MadoMadonnas of Leningradnnas of Leningrad by Debra Dean
A story of love, suffering and helplessness. Marina is rendered helpless when she is affected by Alzheimer’s. While she has difficulty remembering her children or grandchildren, she remembers clearly the 40 day siege of Leningrad, and how she overcame it. As a museum docent, she helped to hide countless priceless works of art from the invading Nazis, all the time creating a “memory palace” in her mind in which to cherish their beauty. These memories and those of the works of art she saved are juxtaposed with the present, where she regularly forgets her own granddaughter. A very sad, poignant story of an Alzheimer’s patient and how the caretakers the family members stand by helplessly while their loved one’s mind is slowly shutting down on the immediate present. A very touching read.  Read another review.

Burial RitesBurial Rites by Hannah Kent
This book explores the grey areas in life. Not every situation can be put into boxes of right or wrong. It makes us think and ponder and feel gut wrenching emotions for all the characters. It is a true, but fictionalized story of the last beheading in Iceland. In 1829, Agnes Magnusdottir is sentenced to death by beheading for the brutal murder of two men. Because there are no local prisons, Agnes is sent to the remotest village to await her execution while living with a farming family. The family is wary of Agnes and takes time to adjust to her presence. The farmer’s wife, slowly thawing towards Agnes, comes to hear her story and is devastated when she realizes there is nothing that anyone can do to save Agnes. The story is told compellingly in different voices and makes you feel the pain and the helplessness of the circumstances.

Defending JacobDefending Jacob by William Landay
Andy Barber, happily married to Laurie and a district attorney in a small New England town, is at a crossroads of his life. He is investigating the murder of a young teen boy, Ben, despite the fact that there might be a conflict of interest – Ben was his son Jacob’s friend, and attended the same school. From here starts the real roller coaster journey! When Jacob is accused of the murder, Andy and Laurie’s world reels. This book explores questions many will never ask. How much do we know about our children? Where does love end, and practicality begin? How do we even begin to imagine what the truth is, whether our child is capable of taking a life… a parent’s worst nightmare come to the fore! What will it take a parent even to accept that it is a possibility? Why is it that when tragedy strikes, all relationships start to unravel? An intriguing piece of fiction where legal implications mesh with family emotions.  Read another review.

The Garlic BalladsThe Garlic Ballads by Yan Mo
This novel is the Nobel Prize winner in Literature for the year 2012, and it is rightly so. The angst, worry, fear hope and helplessness of poverty is so well portrayed that we can actually envision ourselves in the pages of the book and live with the characters, wondering how they survive in those circumstances! The farmers of Paradise County have been leading hard, miserable lives for centuries when the government asks them to plant garlic. The farmers do so, but find it hard to sell. At the mercy of corrupt government officials, the farmers are forced to pay money they don’t have in order to sell their wares, but find that after paying the various taxes and tolls, their crops remain unsold. This is the breaking point for many of the farmers, leading to riots and arrests, followed by inhumane conditions in jail, torture and beatings. An old bard sings the song of tyranny throughout this book, and is killed for it. This book is not just about human suffering and despair, but also filled with tales of family love, loyalty and hope! In the midst of desolation, each character finds a reason to live. This is truly an amazing read, where depths of despair and the upliftment of spirit reside side by side

I am MalalaI am Malala by Malala Yousafzai and Christian Lamb
Most of us have read about Malala and may feel we know her story. This book made me think differently. Malala was born to parents who were strong supporters of women’s rights and had a school of their own for girls. Raised with this mindset, Malala was determined to do her part, and her parents supported her decision. All of them knew that Malala’s bravery would ultimately mean facing the wrath of the Taliban when it took over their Swat Valley. Her parents, who knew the danger their child faced every day, made the difficult choice to support her, and Malala chose to stay the course despite unimaginable pressure. You know the story – Malala was shot – but thankfully, she survived to become a spokesperson for the rights of girls to an education. This review is a salute to all the young girls and women who have fought against the Taliban atrocities for the right to a just life and education, and paved the way for Malala to bring their cause to the attention of the world. Kudos to Malala, a brave young girl who took such a bold, courageous step to improve lives of other girls and fight for their right to education! It is rightly said that the strength of human spirit always humbles you!

Outrage by Arnaldur Indridason

April 3, 2013

Inspector Erlundur is away trying to resolve a personal problem while his associate, Elinborg, is left to handle a strange murder with few clues. There is one important clue left behind….the murder victim, Runolfur, is found with Rohypnol or the ‘date-rape’ drug in his possession. Elinborg’s partner, Sigurdur Oli, is involved with another case and can only give Elinborg peripheral assistance. And so starts Indridason’s fast-paced murder mystery…Outrage!

Elinborg’s persistent digging brings out a few vague clues and a lot of suspicions. Somehow the killing almost seems like a revenge killing of a possible stalker. Not only is Runolfur found with the drug in his possession but his toxins screen shows a high percentage of the drug in his system. There is also evidence that a woman might have been present in his apartment at the time of his death.

As Elinborg starts to create a picture of Runolfur, a case of a disappearing young woman from six years ago may also involve this victim. She has to re-familiarize herself with the Icelandic drug underworld and see if the clues also work their way back to the murder victim.

The book is part of the Inspector Erlundur series by Arnaldur Indridason but in this one his two main subordinates play the key roles. Elinborg is relentless in his pursuit of answers. None of his books have disappointed yet and I hope I have introduced this talented author to many new fans!

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Operation Napoleon by Arnaldur Indridason

February 26, 2013

It doesn’t take one long to be drawn into Arnaldur Indridason’s fast-paced novels. This Icelandic author catches me every time in the first few pages. After that, it is a battle whether whether to keep reading or go do something that requires my attention.

Operation Napoleon begins at the end of World War II when a German Junkers aircraft crashes in the ice fields of Iceland. One survivor attempts to walk for help but he fails. The plane seems to have been carrying both German and American officers who may have been on a secret mission. The cargo is unknown but to a few of the passengers and Allied officers who planned the mission. The first attempt to reach the crash site is led by a Colonel Miller, but he fails to locate the plane.

Jump to 1999 and satellite surveillance has spotted the remains. A clandestine unit within the Secret Service begins an ‘”off the books'” operation to find the plane, secure it and dispose of it; however, Elias and Johan, who are out with a winter rescue team, see the plane and the soldiers digging it out. They are not allowed to escape, although Elias manages to get out a short message to his sister Kristin with the Icelandic Foreign Ministry. Now Kristin has to be stopped from revealing anything about what is going on in the ice fields and the special cargo on the plane. It becomes a race against time and danger as Kristin attempts to save her brother and find out the secret of the ice field.

Indridason is one of my favorites in the Scandinavian mystery sub-genre. Please enjoy this terrific author.

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Hypothermia by Arnaldur Indridoison

October 9, 2012

As you might have guessed I’ve become a fan of Arnaldur Indridason’s Icelandic mysteries. This is the third one I’m reading and reviewing. His protagonist remains the same … the grumpy Inspector Erlendur and his main team of Elinborg and Sigurdur Oli. Still effecting Erlendur is his divorce of decades ago and the welfare of his 2 children, Sindri and Eva Lind. But still with the past and present continuing to effect his daily life, he will continue to solve crimes in the here and now.

This book deals with the mysterious suicide of Maria that leaves her best friend, Karen totally mystified. Karen cannot believe or understand why Maria has taken her own life. Maria’s husband,Baldvin knows his wife had been depressed since the recent death of her mother, Leonora, but no one believes that she was so depressed that she would commit suicide.

Karen brings to the attention of Erlendur a mysterious tape, that apparently was recorded when Maria attended a seance! Maria was never the same after Leonora’s death but it is still a mystery why she would take her own life. Maria is fascinated by the afterlife, believing that there is another world after we die; and she did seem to desperately want to contact her mother after she died.  Erlendur’s interest is piqued enough to start an ‘unofficial’ investigation of the circumstances surrounding this suicide.

Erlendur is also still haunted by the disappearance years before of a young man and a young woman. And although any investigation of their disappearances have been closed maybe because of his own personal histor, he continues to dig into the lives of these two people. But he, also,  won’t leave alone the mystery of Maria’s apparent suicide. It is painstaking work but little by little small pieces of information become available that may all fit together.

Indridason painstakingly reveals the little details that will  complete the mosaic and I must admit that I look forward to reading his next book”

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Silence of the Grave by Arnaldur Indridason

April 12, 2012

Another example of the terrific crime novels coming out of the Scandnavian area (although strictly speaking, Iceland only sort of counts as Scandinavia). Detective Inspector Erlendur Sveinsson is called to the scene of some new home construction because a human bone, a rib, was found at the site. Because the site may have historical significance, a team of archaeologists is also summoned to aid in the excavation.

Erlendur calls in his chief detectives, Sigurdur, Oli & Elinborg to assist in the case and now they all must work with the archaeologists and geologists to undercover the rest of the skeleton. Meanwhile, Erlendur’s personal life is in shambles, his ex-wife Halldora refuses to even speak with him. His daughter, Eva Lind, has left the cryptic message “help me” on his cellphone. His son, Sindri, is out of the country and is of no assistance.

While following the lead of some of Eva Lind’s  friends, he discovers that his daughter has just miscarried her unborn daughter and is found bleeding and in a comatose state, near a hospital. After he gets her to the hospital and the doctors stabilize Eva, Erlendur realizes that it may be touch and go as to whether or not his daughter will survive. And yet, he must go back to the excavation site to help determine if the bone found is a part of a murder victim … and are we dealing with a recent murder or one from a half century before?

There are clues that his team must try to follow, and the trail seems to be leading back in history. If it is a murder, it may have occurred decades before. The author has cleverly woven the story of the present with the story of the past. At first it is a bit confusing, but as you begin to understand, the author fills in the past so that it can fit into the present and resolve the mystery.

The author lives in Reykjavik, Iceland, and has won a Glass Key Award for Best Nordic Crime Novel for both his earlier book Jar City and for Silence of the Grave, which also won the Gold Dagger Award. This is a truly fascinating read and I intend to go back and read the first in the series, Jar City.

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Jar City: a Reykjavik Thriller by Arnaldur Indridason

August 12, 2010

For those of you who are currently swept away with the recent Scando Fiction Crime Wave but are looking for something a little icier than Sweden, how’s about a nice Icelandic freeze to shiver your bones?  Award winning author, Arnaldur Indridason,  has absolutely nailed the crime/mystery formula in his Reykjavik thrillers.  He has done wonders in putting his native Iceland on the literary map and captivating readers from all over the globe.  Simply said, Indridason does it right.

Erlendur Sveinsson is the moody, recurring detective in all of Indridason’s books.  Erlendur is a brusque, brooding loner with an ex-wife he hasn’t seen in 20 years, two children he did not raise, (one of whom has become a junkie and suddenly reappears in his life), and practically no personal relations to anyone other than his partners, Sigurdur Oli and Elinborg.  In short, he is the perfect detective.

Jar City, the first of the Erlendur books, begins with the death of an old man named Holberg, who lived a seemingly silent life just simply riding out his pension.  Erlendur and his colleagues wonder why someone would want bludgeon a  simple, quiet old fellow in the comforts of his own flat.  Well, as the detectives uncover the sordid details of Holberg’s past, they discover he was far from the sweet and peaceful old man he appeared to be.  Come to find out, Holberg has an incredibly shady and violent history.  The discovery begins with a cryptic note, saying nothing more than, “I am HIM.”

Erlendur disgustedly pieces things together while discovering that Holberg was a serial rapist 30 years earlier.  He tracks down the former rape victims, the corrupt, sexist cops who swept the crimes under the rug, as well as Holberg’s former criminal associates, one of whom has ties to Erlendur’s strung-out daughter, Eva Lind.  The layers get even thicker as Erlender uncovers strange genetic ties between Holberg’s rape victims, thus leading him to an immobilized forensics lab called “Jar City,” a place where organs are stored in jars for academic study.  The brain of a disceased child is missing from Jar City, which ends up being a vital piece to the complex puzzle surrounding the death of the wretched Holberg.  Damaged innocents, pain and loss, inevitable justice and self-discovery…  All of these things are the recurring elements in Erlendur’s work and Indridason’s world.

Jar City by Arnaldur Indridason

November 23, 2009

In this first of a series set in Reykjavik, Iceland, detective inspector Erlendur Sveinsson finds a long old man murdered in his apartment. Erlendur’s partners in this suspenseful series are Sigurdur Oli and their female colleague Elinborg.

Because Iceland is such a very small community, everyone in Iceland refers to one another by first name. Erlendur is about 50, haunted by the death of his younger brother when they were children, is divorced and has children of his own with drug problems.  (Yes, a bit depressing of a character).

Murder is extremely rare in Iceland and when it is committed, the crime is usually one of passion.  In Jar City, this is not the case, making it extremely challenging for Erlendur and his team.  The killing of the victim, a very elder senior called Holberg, seems to be inexplicable until Erlendur discovers the the series of rapes Holberg apparently committed. The rapes and the deaths of a number of young women may be connected, and the search brings Erlendur to the forensic lab, whose old “jar city,” since disbanded, held research organs. Meanwhile, Erlendur’s daughter, Eva Lind, is pregnant and still using; she flits in and out of his life angrily, but may be crying out for help. Reykjavík’s physicality, and the fact that crimes are relatively rare in Iceland, gives things a defamiliarizing cast.

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