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Posted: November 4, 2017

Compelling tale should be a best seller

Book Review

By Derryll White

Indridason, Arnaldur (2017). The Shadow District.

Iceland being the current bucket list champion of a lot of privileged travellers, Arnaldur Indridason’s new novel on Reykjavík during and after the Second World War should be a best seller. He digs into how people felt about outsiders, what the folk beliefs were, and a lot of old feelings that have helped to form the current nation and its people.

It is interesting to read about the huldufólk, the elf spirits that inhabited the natural landscape. As Indridason says, the old beliefs die hard – supernatural beings, cursed ground, elf palaces. Indridason fixes the stories in a cultural relationship with nature, a struggle for survival and a fear of the winter darkness. He suggests some of this stuff exists still. As well he explores the more current stories about the British invasion in 1940, occupying Reykjavík and Iceland, and the following insults of the American servicemen.

Indridason writes at some length, and with evident sympathy, of the ‘Situation.’ Young Icelandic women, fresh from the pastoral countryside, were attracted to and taken advantage of by occupying soldiers. The impact on Icelandic society was strong and extended over a sustained period after the occupation as the children of these liaisons were born. The prejudice and stigma was part of the emerging attitude that women deserved to be emancipated, free to make choices.

Victoria Cribb’s translation of ‘The Shadow District’ reads seamlessly, as good as the invisible mending featured in the story. The blending of fiction and fact makes for interesting reading and will undoubtedly encourage Indridason’s wide set of readers to move Iceland higher on their travel bucket list. It is a compelling tale of the birth of a nation and loss of the past.


Excerpts from the novel:

ICELANDIC WOMEN – She was single, worked in a library and lived a life of fairly unrelieved monotony. Her workplace suited her down to the ground, as books had been her greatest passion since childhood. She was something of a collector too and had built up an enviable library of her own. Elisabeth, or Beta as she was affectionately known, was an old-school communist and took a dismissive attitude to most things on the grounds that they were bourgeois. There was nothing she loathed more than capitalism, a term that covered a multitude of sins in her book.

STATE-OF-THE-NATION – “Is that challenging in a society as simple as Iceland’s?”

“It’s getting more complicated by the day,” said Flóvent, smiling. “When a poor farming community is torn up by its roots and dragged into the maelstrom of world events, who can say where it’ll end? But it’s not likely to end well.”

– Derryll White once wrote books but now chooses to read and write about them.  When not reading he writes history for the web at

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