Literature is omnivorous
Authors sometimes speak of their work as a curse and a trial they would rather be rid off. Such lamentations are hard to believe. People write because they enjoy it. Because a great light is shone onto grey days. A delightful wine quenches a stubborn thirst. When authors feel that things are going well they have one foot in paradise. Although hell is never far away: it is inhabited by publishers, critics and readers, who either rake the author over a hot bed of coals or leave him out in the cold and this hell is nourished by the thought that I have done well but no one appreciates it. Literature is like a great love, it will feed on anything. The author is entertaining himself. He imagines that he is entertaining others and sometimes he is right. He is easing his burden, he confesses to the world and at the same time is playing with it, he is playing with the fact that no one can know for sure whether he is baring himself and his crimes or showing the misery and crimes of other people - and at the same time exposing those who read his text. He might be searching for a great truth, but hopefully realises that he does not need to find it, it is much more remarkable to let other people join you in a search they believe to be a worthy one.
Maybe the author gathers a lot of knowledge, both on love and jealousy, right and wrong, ideals and superstition, commerce and war making, legislation and fishing and melts it all together with an exciting story. Many do not pay attention to this knowledge, but it permeates everything and makes itself known to the owner when he least expects it. Sometimes the readers want authors to teach them how to live: many interesting things have sprung to life in the struggle between falling for that temptation and doing one´s best to avoid it. Mostly people look to books to make up for the great emptiness that presides over most people´s daily existence, looking for salt and the spice of great love, terrible danger, the wizardry of the unexpected, sly humour.
Many a dish can be added to the menu that feeds books and authors, and not all of them are distinguished. Modernist authors suspected that their romantic colleagues constantly whined about their loneliness in this world in order to get the attentions of young girls. In World Light [Heimsljós by Halldór Laxness] the reader is reminded of the sincere contempt many hard working men have for those who pretend to be authors because they "are too lazy to earn a living". Many a thing has undeniably been said of the fame addiction of authors and those who are well off, enough to be scolded for solely being in the writing-game for the money. And then we have those who give up on any explanations as to why they write books. Tolstoy did not understand why he, then an octogenarian dusty old man and according to himself not a stupid one, would be occupied by such impractical nonsense as writing a novel surely is. He could find no other explanation than "it must be like sexual urges". It cannot be helped.
For nearly twenty years I had been writing reviews on other people´s books before I fell into the sin of writing one myself. Although it was not put together because the critic wanted to proof how wrong the widely held view is, that critics are mostly people who are unable to write themselves. The book was called Miðvikudagar í Moskvu [Wednesdays in Moscow] (1979). It was meant to relay an experience few people knew, but could well matter: How a youth from Iceland reaches maturity in a completely different world from the one he was brought up in. In other words: It tells the story of my student years in the Soviet Union and of the changes in myself and those of the Soviet communism of the era. This theme was later picked up by my wife Lena Bergmann and myself in a book we called Blátt og rautt [Blue and Red] (1986) where we took turns to describe how two children born in 1935 grew up in different worlds - Iceland and Soviet era Russia. My first novel, Geirfuglarnir [Great Auks] (1982) started out as a parody of Icelandic autobiographies, but the result was a book about a small fishing village that resembled greatly the Keflavík I grew up in. This became the village where news of global importance could take place but in that particular way, partly endearing and partly ludicrous, that comes from the curiosity and smallness that close proximity to your neighbours gives you. The story ends with the terrible and total destruction of that small world and no one knows if it was due to human actions or a natural disaster: I guess I wanted thus to bunch together in one huge disaster the loss and yearning for "a world that once was" that takes hold of most of us.
Með kveðju frá Dublin [With a Greeting from Dublin] (1984) is a political love story: An Icelandic teacher gets to know an Irish girl on his summer holiday and through her the IRA, the Irish Republican Army; soon the teacher has started to assist in acts of terrorism against the British in Iceland. The story is about how terrorism can pop up, even here, north of all wars, or so most of us think. It is also about the "good terrorists", about how dangerous acts can originate from impulses and feelings and cries for justice who in themselves have a claim for understanding and some compassion.
Þorvaldur víðförli [Thorvald the Widely Travelled] (1994) is a historical novel about the good Viking who is among the first Christian missionaries in Iceland but is chased away and makes his way to Russia and Greece: there is not much said of those trips in the Icelandic sagas and therefore I had more freedom to speculate on what happens to "our boy" in the big wide world. There are novels that tackle the battle between Christianity and paganism first and foremost as a power struggle. But I tried to describe Thorvald as a young man who is very serious about Christianity. He is not a mercenary who wants to stay in the ideological fashion of the time or be on the right side of the development in Europe. He takes part in a search for the basis of trust in reality, he gets a calling, he hears the voice of truth that demands that he go out into the world to change it. Then he has to test his faith in bitter disappointment with men and the already Christian societies, he must also do battle with the eternal blight of the Christian man: how can one reconcile the good of God and the evil of the world? And another thing: how do the humble love for the mother of God and the love for an earthly woman go together?
The children´s book Óskastundin [The Wishing Hour] (1997) is about the eternal daydream of children that they have long into adulthood: how can I get a grip on the world that others do not have. Get strong like Pippi Longstocking or master wizardry like Harry Potter? My character, Hildur, gets the power to fulfill wishes - but with the side effect that she cannot wish for anything for herself, she cannot do anything that seems completely implausible, and she cannot let anyone know of her powers. And this is much more difficult than anyone would suspect. I also co-wrote another children´s book with my daughter Lena Bergmann who is an artist: it tells the story of how Stelpan sem var hrædd við dýr [The Girl Who Was Afraid of Animals] (1994) loses her way into the world of animals and learns how to trust them.
My last novel is called Sægreifi deyr [Death of a Fishing Baron] (1999). It is a family story connected to the hottest debate in modern Iceland, the matter of the fishing quota, the control of the fishing grounds! It is obviously impossible to find a solution to that dilemma in a novel. But it can be used as an example of a problem that goes beyond the topical problems of the Icelandic fishing villages of today. A problem which touches upon the dangers that threaten numerous smaller societies at the moment and for the nearest future - when the basis for survival and former way of living is taken away and people stand helplessly in the cold wind of the so called global village. And like in most novels there is much talk of many things other than the first mentioned, of the leftwing politics that disappeared and the tourism that showed up, about god and writing and what existence they are allowed here and now. Love is of course a big motivator in this story as in the other ones: without it each novel becomes like stock fish left to soak for too long, like a young man who has forgotten to play, like an aged man who has lost all curiosity.
Árni Bergmann, 2002
Translated by Dagur GunnarssonBack