The Icelandic Literary Prize 2010 (non-fiction)
Icelandic Women’s Literature Prize 2010 (non-fiction)
Icelandic Bookseller’s Literary Price 2010 (Biography)
The Hagþenkir Non-fiction Prize 2010
In the autumn of 1940 an Icelandic couple, doctors Fridgeir Olafsson and Sigrun Briem, set off to the United States for specialized studies. After four years there and in Canada they returned to Iceland, he with a Ph.D from Harvard University and she having completed her internship working in children’s hospitals. Their stay in America had been like an adventure and did much to satisfy their great ambitions, but what had changed everything and molded them more than any other experience on this long journey was the birth and raising of three children. Sigrun and Fridgeir are truly symbols of the bright hopes of Icelandic medical science, when they board the Godafoss in autumn of 1944, but they are also parents convinced of their most important role in the near future.
Uncertain Seas is a story from World War Two that not only touches on many aspects of Iceland’s history in the 20th century, but also draws in a rich variety of scenes from American social history. The book describes, among other things, Sigrun and Fridgeir’s encounter with poverty and violence in that country’s cities (such as in New York’s Harlem district), popular culture and the rise of powerful institutions and corporations in American society, wealth accumulation and the ever increasing emphases on scientific and technical progress. As well as being bound up with the world of medical science, the couple’s life in America also involved running a home, the availability of new household appliances, and the demand for domestic help during wartime. Their story certainly complicates the picture we have of the role of the housewife during the forties in the United States, the attitude to black housemaids, relations between the sexes, and the role of fathers in bringing up children.
Uncertain Seas is based on letters and diaries the couple kept from the time they departed for the United States in the autumn of 1940 until they returned to Iceland from New York in the autumn of 1944. The writer also uses a number of photographs to illustrate events and precious moments in the life of the family, but the story of what happened on board Godafoss after it was torpedoed by a German submarine is told here from a new angle, with Sigrun, Fridgeir and their children at the centre of the action.
The Hagþenkir Non-fiction Prize 2013
The DV – Newspaper Cultural Pize for Non-Fiction 2013
The DV–Newspaper Cultural Prize for Literature 2013
Won the Icelandic Bookseller’s Literary Price 2013 (Biography)
“Precise scholarly work, combined with a cunningly conceived and straightforward presentation make this a unique title on the borders between biography and history. ”
Hagthenkir Award Jury
(four stars out of five)
“Palsdottir is a wonderful writer who is able to exploit the strictures of historical accuracy to create a story that contains a more interesting cast of characters and more exciting development than most novels. The final chapter, describing the five minutes it takes the Goðafoss to go down, is written with such great feeling and insight that it makes the reader’s hair literally stand on end and the tears flow. A totally amazing experience … A fantastically well written and thought-provoking story about a couple whose fate was cruel. A more powerful read than most novels.”
Fridrika Benonysdottir / Frettabladid daily
“In this book – as in her earlier Thora the Bishop´s Daughter, and Tribulations of the Icelandic Elite – Sigrun Palsdottir demonstrates her unique talent for setting personal narratives within their historical context, bringing them to life in an accessible and utterly memorable way … Her ability to use the written word to present powerful images and recreate singular events reaches a peak in the final chapter, which is, like the whole book, concise, succinct, and incredibly powerful in its simplicity. Here, history becomes art.”
Audur Aðalsteinsdottir / Spassian.is
“Uncertain Seas by Sigrun Palsdottir is an extremely memorable and well told story of a family whose future seems bright, but cruel fate has other ideas.”
Kolbrun Bergthorsdottir / Morgunbladid daily
“The book is a true work of art, stylistically and in its treatment of the material … The writer is never tempted to embellish or exaggerate, nor is she ever overly sentimental about people’s fates – a fault authors often display with far less excuse … This is a writer of quality. She is also a historian of quality … The book should definitely be a bestseller, in the genre of biographies at the very least … A fantastic book. Many thanks.”
“A warm and human story of a very cruel fate. Pálsdóttir possesses terrific sensitivity both as a stylist and in how she processes her material … the final chapter will bring the hardest of hearts to tears, because she creates such a powerful image of these people, and one empathises so completely … Booksellers have voted this the best biography of the year … I agree completely with their choice … I am extremely impressed.”
Kolbrun Bergþorsdottir / Kiljan, National TV
“I think this is a really great book, and the quality of what has gone before makes the impact of the final chapter all the more heart-breaking.”
Sigurður G. Valgeirsson / Kiljan, National TV
“The biography of the year.”
Kolbrún Bergþórsdóttir / Morgunbladid daily
“She has, as a writer, a unique ability to demonstrate how the threads of social structure and history (both public and personal) are interwoven – not solely involving individuals and all that is implied by the concept of family, but also those wider connotations that cut across the boundaries of nations, cultures and even time … Palsdottir takes material she has collected about a particular family and moulds it into a parable with extremely wide references. Everything is there, large and small – personal ambition, togetherness, the family image, ideas of equality and the value of the individual for society … That aside, Palsdottir has an excellent style that flows effortlessly between facts from recognised source material and the products of her own imagination. Not only is she aware of the necessity to communicate beyond the factual material to hand, she also knows when mere words are useless.”
Frida Björk Ingvarsdottir / Vidsja, National Broadcasting Service
The novel is narrated by a young woman, a postgraduate, who spends her days in the archive rooms of an Oxford library researching a 17th century diary. As the novel starts, she stumbles upon a ground-breaking discovery: her diarist, known only as S.B., must have Britain’s first documented professional female artist. This historical revelation will change the narrator’s life; as the Preface ends, we see her returning to her shabby, temporary home in England, waiting for her husband, already planning a new life made possible by what she has just discovered.
It is only after she’s begun to trade on her discovery that she realizes she’s mistaken; the premises of her thesis is unfounded and based on her own misconception. She desperately tries to hide her mistake, but each new lie makes her situation worse, and loosen her grip on the boundary between reality and fantasy. Unable to complete her studies and unwilling to reveal her error, she returns to Iceland with her husband, where she plunges further into the mental delusions that plagued her younger self.
Kompa is a novel about the nature of research and sources, how we interpret them and how we preserve them. It’s a novel about the relativity of knowledge, the somewhat random preservation of historical documents and many pitfalls of historical research. About our tendency towards confirmation bias, reading our own desires into the things we stumble upon. It’s also a critique of academic over-interpretation and the fetish for novelty, for Big Discoveries. Kompa is an experiment with construction and form in a highly dramatic story that has comic undertones, indistinct as the story progresses.
Icelandic Women’s Literature Prize 2010 (fiction)
Absolutely brilliant from beginning to end.
Halla Oddný Magnúsdóttir/ National TV (RUV)
(four stars out of five)
An amazing story … A very memorable reading experience, and in spite of a serious undertone there´s a very finely tuned quiet humour
Júlía M. Alexandersdóttir/ Morgunbladid daily
(four stars out of five)
Like a cubist work of art
Jóhanna María Einarsdóttir/ DV newspaper
Brilliantly executed … has masterful command in her writing
Steinunn Inga Óttarsdóttir/ Women’s Magazine
A really exciting book, to say the least
Jórunn Sigurðardóttir/ National Radio (RUV)
Well written. Very well conceived. I thought it was excellent.
Kolbrún Bergþórsdóttir/ KILJAN National TV (RUV)
A new voice in Icelandic fiction
Jóhann Helgi Heiðdal/ Starafugl
Full of masterly counterpoint of form and content
Halla Oddný Magnúsdóttir/ National TV (RUV)
The dreamlike plot draws you into the story, the need to find out about the manuscript propels ones reading
Gunnþórunn Guðmundsdóttir/HUGRÁS (Literary website, University of Iceland)
A complex and arresting novel where a super precise style and an ingenious construction come together
Women’s Literature Pize (from nomination comment)