The Little Book of the Icelanders

 

I’m reposting t his review. Kolla mentioned it on Facebook and reminded me how much I enjoyed it.This is one of those books that someone with any Icelandic background at all will find humorous because they’ll recognize themselves and their friends and relatives. Those without an Icelandic background should get a laugh because the short essays reveal the silliness of Icelandic society without being unkind.

This is the second time I’ve read The Little Book of The Icelanders. It was just as funny and as insightful as the first time. Although I’m four generations away from Iceland, I still recognized quirks and behaviours that made me both laugh and cringe.

Tragedy is easy to discuss. We all agree on tragic. Humour is hard to discuss. What is funny to one person isn’t funny to another. However, there is likely to be something humorous for everyone in Alda Sigmundsdóttir´s ebook.

Laxness is concerned with social injustice, Yrsa and Indridason with murder. That can all be leavened by laughter.

Alda had moved abroad at the age of five. She returned to Iceland twenty-five or so years later in 1994. Although she was Icelandic and had been in the Icelandic school system between the ages of seven and ten, she was now a foreigner with a foreign perspective. That has allowed her to observe her fellow Icelanders with a keen eye and make note of their quirks and oddities. She is definitely not heimskur.

She points out in her introduction that tradition and conforming are important to Icelanders. Because of their history sticking together and not rocking the boat have been important. Something that is interesting is how this has changed with the financial meltdown and its aftermath but those comparisons, you will have to do for yourself.

She explains about people, young and old, being addressed by their first names. We should have had this explanation when I was in high school and we got a new principal who was outraged by our disrespect because we addressed him by his first name.

She explains about the oddity of the phone book listing everyone by their first name and their profession. While there are official controls over what you can call a child, there are no controls over what profession you can claim. The result is that the Icelandic phone book has “nine sorcerers, three alien tamers…59 Jedi Masters and (my personal favourite) two hen whisperers.”

Some people have written essays on whether or not Icelanders have a sense of humour. They obviously didn’t grow up in an Icelandic community. Alda says “The Icelandic sense of humour is dry, self-effacing, sarcastic and has a special penchant for the absurd.” Taking yourself too seriously is considered a minor offense in Iceland. In the Icelandic community in Canada, the tradition holds for a cutting criticism is to say that someone is full of himself.

She tackles explaining naming, family names, the politics around the naming of babies including the role of að vitja nafns.

A section on driving in Iceland made me greatly relieved. There are things I do that I can now blame on my Icelandic genes. “Take indicator lights, for example. Icelanders use them very sparingly, if at all. Frequently they’ll put them on in the middle of a turn (as in: look, I’m turning!) or right after they’ve turned (I just made a turn!).

Twenty-to-twenty-nine year-old Icelanders are 95% on Fésbók. Fésbókarlýðræði, or Facebook Democracy is having a major influence on the political situation.

There are too many topics covered to mention them all but only a book about Iceland and the social habits of its population would have a chapter on The Invaluable Social Function of the Hot Tubs”.

Buy it. You can’t put it under the tree but you can put it on someone’s computer. Laughter is good medicine. Alda says she’s signed a deal with Forlagið, Iceland’s largest publisher, for the publication of this book in print form (and electronic form too, in fact). Publication slated for 1 May 2012.

If you want a paper copy, you should be able to buy one in Iceland this coming summer.

You can go to this address on your computer:

http://.com/the-little-book-of-the-icelanders

There is information about the book and you can purchase it there. Just click on a credit card symbol on the page. It will open up and provide PayPal. The book is 24.99 and worth every penny.