web site hit counter Himnaríki og helvíti - Ebooks PDF Online
Hot Best Seller

Himnaríki og helvíti

Availability: Ready to download

Sagan gerist fyrir meira en hundrað árum, vestur á fjörðum. Strákurinn og Bárður róa um nótt á sexæringi út á víðáttur Djúpsins að leggja lóðir. Þótt peysurnar séu vel þæfðar smýgur heimskautavindur auðveldlega í gegn. Það er stutt á milli lífs og dauða, eiginlega bara ein flík, einn stakkur.


Compare

Sagan gerist fyrir meira en hundrað árum, vestur á fjörðum. Strákurinn og Bárður róa um nótt á sexæringi út á víðáttur Djúpsins að leggja lóðir. Þótt peysurnar séu vel þæfðar smýgur heimskautavindur auðveldlega í gegn. Það er stutt á milli lífs og dauða, eiginlega bara ein flík, einn stakkur.

30 review for Himnaríki og helvíti

  1. 4 out of 5

    Cecily

    “Nothing is sweet to me, without thee.” “I just don’t know who I am. I don’t know why I am. And I’m not entirely sure I’ll be given time to find out.” And I’m not entirely sure what I’ve read. But I am sure that it was profound, beautiful, and brilliant. A tribute to the tenacity of life and the dark depths of one person’s loyalty, even beyond the watery grave. “It’s one thing to be able to read and another to know how to read.” There is a short, ethereal introduction, whose significance I didn’t “Nothing is sweet to me, without thee.” “I just don’t know who I am. I don’t know why I am. And I’m not entirely sure I’ll be given time to find out.” And I’m not entirely sure what I’ve read. But I am sure that it was profound, beautiful, and brilliant. A tribute to the tenacity of life and the dark depths of one person’s loyalty, even beyond the watery grave. “It’s one thing to be able to read and another to know how to read.” There is a short, ethereal introduction, whose significance I didn’t fully appreciate until later. It then launches into the story described in the blurb: a century ago, a nameless boy of 19 and his bookish friend, Bárður, leave Iceland with four others: experienced fisherman, but non-swimmers, in an “open coffin”. Tragedy strikes, after which the boy goes on a perilous journey to return the borrowed Paradise Lost. The reader is hooked as surely as an arctic cod. But then the tide turns and philosophical digressions and peripheral characters almost swamp the main story. The “we” who narrate, cast their tangled lines through the minds and lives of villagers, all of them lonely, isolated, regretful, and all of whom daily live the pain of the words quoted at the top of this review. And finally, the waters recede, and the narrative returns to the boy. The harsh and dangerous beauty of an arctic environment is ever present. Dandelions and stars may be kindled, but there is resigned respect for the capricious sea that sustains life - even as it snatches it away; the mountains, too. The fishermen trust God, and “perhaps a minuscule amount of ingenuity, courage, longing for life”. There’s edgy camaraderie, deep bonds of unusual friendships, and the power - and danger - of words, leaving me touched by “snowflakes… born of the heavens… white and shaped like angels’ wings”. Words as Rescue Teams “We might not need words to survive; on the other hand, we do need words to live.” The words of this book spoke to me, especially the words about words. “Some words can conceivably change the world, they can comfort us and dry our tears. Some words are bullets, others are notes of a violin. Some can melt the ice around one’s heart, and it is even possible to send words out like rescue teams when the days are difficult and we are perhaps neither living nor dead.” The joy of that is that words can be whispered in an ear, shouted across a room, printed in ink, carved in stone, written in blood, typed or spoken into a computer, and sent across the world, and across time. However helpless we sometimes feel when we see those we love and care about floundering in the treacherous waters of life, we can always cast a net of rescuing words. Bárður and the boy adore literature, but the captain, Pétur, has a more visceral verbal power, reciting obscene verses: “This is a primitive force, a language with deep roots in a dim subconscious sprung from harsh life and ever-present death.” Memories, important and comforting as they are, “don’t keep us afloat”. Telling how someone died is almost like resurrecting them: “break into the kingdom of death armed with words. Words can have the might of giants and they can kill a god, they can save lives and destroy them. Words are arrows, bullets, mythological birds that chase down gods… they are nets vast enough to trap the world and the sky as well, but sometimes words are nothing, torn garments that the frost penetrates, a run-down battlement that death and misfortune step lightly over. Yet words are the one thing this boy has.” Horizon, Boundaries, Balance One character dies because of his love of literature, leaving another obligated to live, at least for a while, for the same reason. Almost everything here is perfectly balanced - except the title. Life and death. Good and evil. Ebb and flow. Winter and summer. Sky and earth. No wonder the horizon is mentioned so often. * “The sea is the wellspring of life, in it dwells the rhythm of death.” * “The more light, the more darkness.” And “The light of the moon… makes the shadows darker, the world more mysterious.” * “The world is gone and a dense black cloud where the horizon should be. The storm is approaching.” * “Those who live in this valley see only a piece of the sky. Their horizon is mountains and dreams.” Hell - but no Heaven? Despite the balance, there are many explicit examples of Hell, but none of Heaven. Heaven comes from the writing itself, and the dedication of the boy. "Hell is having arms but no-one to embrace." “Hell is not knowing whether we are alive or dead.” “Hell is to be dead and to realize that you did not care for life while you had the chance.” “Hell is being seasick in a sixereen… many hours from shore.” “Hell is a library and you’re blind.” Hell is also injustice, where ravens come from, and being too drunk to remember your wife’s name. Joy is simpler: “It is ridiculously good to have solid ground beneath one’s feet. Then you haven’t drowned and can have something to eat.” The (un)Dead This is not a ghost story with supernatural themes. However, a dead person is seen and heard (or imagined), and there are two types of spirits in limbo who are neither seen nor heard. These aspects reflect traditional Icelandic beliefs, as well as being a novel lens through which to see the corporeal world. “The large group of fishermen who ramble about the seafloor, jabbering to each other about the jogtrot of time, waiting for the final call… Waiting for God to pull them up, fish them up with his net of stars, dry them off with his warm breath, permit them to walk with dry feet in Heaven, where one never eats fish, say the drowned, always just as optimistic, busy themselves with looking up at the boats, expressing amazement at the new fishing gear… but sometimes weeping with regret for life, weeping as drowned folk weep, and that is why the sea is salty.” “We died and nothing happened… Here we are, above ground, restless, terrified and embittered, while our bones are likely peaceful down in the ground”, with “something invisible between us and you who live”, so we “ask constantly, why are we here? Where did the others go?... Where is God?” It’s not fair that “God certainly called her… while we, who ramble here, dead yet still alive, listen and listen but never hear anything.” Their mission is nothing less than “to save the world” - and the boy - by telling this story. “Our words are a kind of rescue team on a relentless mission to save past events and extinguished lives from the black hole of oblivion.” Blind Eyes See Milton was blind when he wrote Paradise Lost, but he could certainly see into hearts and minds. Kolbeinn is a retired captain, now blind. “His dead eyes slip through the boy like cold hands.” His Hell is that he can no longer read his 400 books, something Jorge Luis Borges, who also went blind, would have understood when he wrote "I have always imagined that Paradise will be a kind of library". * “Eyes are invisible hands that stroke, feel, touch, find.” * “Eyes must be somewhere… We must think about where we point them and when… They can be canons, music, bird song, war cries. They can reveal us, they can save you, destroy you.” * “Both of them blind, he physically, she morally.” * “No living being can stand to look into the eyes of God because they contain the fountain of life and the abyss of death.” * “Eyes so bright they vanquish night.” * “A woman staring at nothing, she has big eyes, recalling a horse that has stood all of its life outside in heavy rain… Once, it was a long time ago, she laughed quite often and then her eyes were suns above life… where now is the joy in these eyes?” The Meaning of Life - and Death “Is it a loss of Paradise to die?” "Our existence is a relentless search for a solution, what comforts us, whatever gives us happiness, drives away all bad things... We take cure-alls instead of searching, continually asking what is the shortest path to happiness, and we find the answer in God, science, brennivin, Chinese Vital Elixir." We often ponder the meaning of life, but this also considers the meaning and the purpose of death - especially for the several characters who consider choosing it. But we are reminded that “When there is a choice between life and death, most choose life”. Most. Miscellaneous Quotes * “The evening condenses against the windows, the wind strokes the rooftops.” * “The sea floods into the dreams of those who sleep on the open sea, their consciousness is filled with fish and drowned companions who wave sadly with fins in place of hands.” * “Memories turn to nothing, fish come and nibble the lips that were kissed yesterday.” * “A dead man is so much heavier than one who lives, the sparkling memories have become dark, heavy metal.” * “It is not possible to thread the tears together and then let them sink like a glittering rope down into the dark deep and pull up those who died but ought to have lived.” * “April comes to us with a first aid kit and tries to heal the wounds of winter.” * “She likely only knows the verb to hesitate by reputation.” * “Bryndis, he whispers softly… as if to get his bearings, discover the taste… The air trembles.” * “Music is unlike anything else. It is the rain that falls in the desert, the sunshine that illuminates hearts, and it is the night that comforts.” * “Sometimes one world needs to perish so that another can come into being.” The author* indirectly credits his country for his lyricism, “There is nothing to see in Iceland except mountains, waterfalls, tussocks and this light that can pass through you and turn you into a poet”. Three-Volume Novel This is not a trilogy; it’s one novel in three, very closely-related parts, covering just a few weeks: 1. Heaven and Hell, this book. 2. The Sorrow of Angels, reviewed HERE. 3. The Heart of Man, review HERE. For a more concrete idea of setting, plot, characters, and writing style, see my overview HERE. Photo is of Jón Gunnar Árnason’s sculpture “Sólfar” (Sun Voyager). The photo source is HERE. Information on the sculpture is HERE. *Note: “Jón Kalman Stefánsson. The last name is a patronymic, not a family name; this person is properly referred to by the given name Jón Kalman”. From Wikipedia.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Candi

    “… human life is a constant race against the darkness of the world, the treachery, the cruelty, the cowardice, a race that often seems so hopeless, yet we still run and, as we do, hope lives on.” This novel is nearly impossible to review. It is beautiful, highly introspective and thought-provoking. It needs to be truly experienced because it is a very personal book. It’s about life and death, grief, love and companionship, books, poetry and words. It is about Heaven and Hell, not as physical plac “… human life is a constant race against the darkness of the world, the treachery, the cruelty, the cowardice, a race that often seems so hopeless, yet we still run and, as we do, hope lives on.” This novel is nearly impossible to review. It is beautiful, highly introspective and thought-provoking. It needs to be truly experienced because it is a very personal book. It’s about life and death, grief, love and companionship, books, poetry and words. It is about Heaven and Hell, not as physical places, but as they exist in our lives – what happens to us as well as the absence of certain things. How we live the life that has been gifted to us. “Hell is to be dead and to realize that you did not care for life while you had the chance to do so.” The setting is an Icelandic fishing community in another century. Yet, the story is truly timeless. It is about a boy, his friend, and the residents; yet it’s about mankind. Tragedy strikes and the nameless boy sets out to return a book to its rightful owner. With Paradise Lost in hand, he treks across a landscape that is harsh, treacherous and unforgiving. The journey is one that tests not just the physical body, but the spiritual as well. The boy’s soul is snared in darkness from the immeasurable losses he has endured in his short life. How does one go on living when all those one has loved are now lost? The dreams of a future are scattered to the winds, to the imperious mountains and the merciless sea. “He wants to accomplish something in life, learn languages, see the world, read a thousand books, he wants to discover the core, whatever that might be, he wants to discover whether there is any core…” What sustains the boy throughout his odyssey are the responsibility of returning the book and the words that his friend murmurs in his ear, “Nothing is sweet to me, without thee.” Much of this novel is about the love for books, poetry and reading. Each of us knows that words can be a treasure and a lifesaver. There is a blind man that cherished his library full of books. It is his personal hell to no longer be able to read those books with his own eyes. The boy recalls that his parents, despite a life full of struggle and toil, recognized the value of books and blessed their son with the same reverence for words. “Words still seem able to move people, it is unbelievable, and perhaps the light is thus not completely extinguished within them, perhaps some hope yet remains, despite everything.” Eventually we come to know the people as the boy is introduced to each of them. The narration takes a turn as we begin to follow some of the other townspeople. Their sorrows and feelings of isolation are as tangible as those of the boy. What ties them all together is the need for human companionship. Perhaps words alone are not always enough to preserve a life. Each reflects on love that has been lost or love that one yearns toward. Words may be a balm, but humankind needs one another to survive. “… we often have to hold onto something in order not to get lost or tumble over the edge, it can be a handrail but preferably another hand.” My heart ached not just for the people in this novel, but for all human beings, everywhere. Stefánnson writes not merely about his characters, but more broadly about humanity. He does so with a divine, lyrical and metaphorical prose. I was entirely captivated by both the writing as well as the highly contemplative exploration of what it means to not only survive but to be truly ‘alive’. “What are you, life? Perhaps the answer is found in the question, the wonder that is implicit in it. Does the light of life dwindle and turn to darkness as soon as we stop wondering, stop questioning and take life like every other commonplace thing?”

  3. 5 out of 5

    Dolors

    The world as we know it is composed of a succession of clashing opposites. Sky and sea, mountains and valleys, ice and water, uproar and serenity. Life and Death. Heaven and Hell. Of the last pair, the nameless boy in Stéfansson’s tale is more familiar with hell. Hell is being seasick in a sixereen out on the open sea, needing to work and many hours from shore. Hell is having arms but no-one to embrace. Hell is a dead person. Hell is not knowing whether we are alive or dead. But what about heaven? Heav The world as we know it is composed of a succession of clashing opposites. Sky and sea, mountains and valleys, ice and water, uproar and serenity. Life and Death. Heaven and Hell. Of the last pair, the nameless boy in Stéfansson’s tale is more familiar with hell. Hell is being seasick in a sixereen out on the open sea, needing to work and many hours from shore. Hell is having arms but no-one to embrace. Hell is a dead person. Hell is not knowing whether we are alive or dead. But what about heaven? Heaven is to be found in words, words that are the rescue teams in sea vessels that sail the turbulent currents of remote oceans, where the dividing line between life and death is smeared like the dark horizon on a stormy night. The first-person plural narrator of this introspective journey roams around the minds of several inhabitants of a remote fishing community in Iceland as if trapped between the world of the living and the world of the dead. These ghostly voices speak from the bottom of the sea, this natural wonder both miraculous and treacherous, source of sustenance and merciless executioner that claims daily sacrifices from the humans that disturb its untamed spirit. Everybody is aware that life equals hardship in “The Village”. The boy knows it is one step away from death and he has to summon all his strength to resist the call of the lullabying darkness that cradles his soul. And so he embarks on a trip across the hostile beauty of the Icelandic fjords in search of the meaning of existence. A picturesque array of casual encounters, from bearded curmudgeons to delicate nymphets, will draw a vivid mosaic of the motivating forces that keep the human heart afloat and will show the way to the thirteen-year old wanderer. Lost and newfound love, God, music and Brennivín will be recurrent elements in the contemplative reveries of many characters that cross paths with the anonymous protagonist. Stéfansson’s story is delightfully written. Deliberately lyrical but with a realistic vocation that is tastefully seasoned with the musical cadence of poetry, the ethereal naturalism blends with plastic metaphors exuding a rare literary sensitivity that was perceived almost like a sensorial experience by this bewitched reader. And in the midst of carefully phrased sentences, the redeeming power of words, which can also be useless, even deadly, gets hold of you. Words that invoke a collective lament that sets forth with a blind skipper who owns a large library replete of books he can’t read and a returned copy of Milton’s Paradise Lost, which serves as backdrop and sets the inner rhythm of this tender story that is not undermined by its figurative language. A modern odyssey that comes from the land of the frozen seas that require of no ax to smash the emotions locked inside, because words in this book reach out and pierce right through you. They stir the becalmed waters within oneself and warm hearts that would be petrified by the frosty uncertainty that is so wide that life cannot cross it. But maybe Stéfansson’s words can, despite everything.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Diane S ☔

    The sea gives and the sea takes away. She is a very harsh mistress as two young men, our handles main character and his friend Baldur. They both love reading and Baldur carries a borrowed copy of Paradise Lost. The need to make money and sign on to work with a fishing crew, a hard, way to make a living. Yet, poverty leaves one with little choice. A terrible event will send our nameless boy off to find a different way of life. The story is slow, very detailed, but the descriptions are those one ca The sea gives and the sea takes away. She is a very harsh mistress as two young men, our handles main character and his friend Baldur. They both love reading and Baldur carries a borrowed copy of Paradise Lost. The need to make money and sign on to work with a fishing crew, a hard, way to make a living. Yet, poverty leaves one with little choice. A terrible event will send our nameless boy off to find a different way of life. The story is slow, very detailed, but the descriptions are those one can feel. Cold that envelopes the reader, relentless, unabating weather. Tiredness, the kind that never leaves. This is not an easy job and the men's lives are not easy. The language is absolutely gorgeous, one can find a myriad of quotable material on ever page. The prologue is narrated by an anonymous source and begins the story, two people long gone that want to tell the take of those who should not be forgotten. This is rural Iceland, one hundred years ago and one can literally feel and get to know the beliefs of that time. The poverty and desperation, the fear that when the men go out all may not return. A read that show that there are different versions of heaven and hell, and that friendship is beyond value.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Sue

    It is the language, the glorious language, that totally won me with this book. This first book in a trilogy is set in Iceland sometime in the 19th century in a fishing community. It is the story of the boy, a teen who spends some of the year on the fishing boats with his friend, Barthur, a slightly older young man, enthused with life, enjoying reading Paradise Lost, who is about to become another of the thousands of fishermen to lose their lives to the elements. The boy then must determine what h It is the language, the glorious language, that totally won me with this book. This first book in a trilogy is set in Iceland sometime in the 19th century in a fishing community. It is the story of the boy, a teen who spends some of the year on the fishing boats with his friend, Barthur, a slightly older young man, enthused with life, enjoying reading Paradise Lost, who is about to become another of the thousands of fishermen to lose their lives to the elements. The boy then must determine what his life will become. These are the very bare bones of the novel. What makes the novel soar are the words themselves and how they are arranged, poetically in almost every paragraph, almost every page. If I had read this on a kindle, who knows how much might have been highlighted (and I may still buy my own copy as I am crazy when a book strikes me this way). Moonlight can leave us defenseless. It causes us to remember, wounds tear open and we bleed. His mother wrote to him about the moon and the heavens, about the ages of the stars and the distance to Jupiter. she knew many things, despite having been raised by folk outside her own family, had had it hard there, was reprimanded for thirsting after knowledge but learned to read by following along when the boys on the farm were at their lessons....It was reading and the desire for knowledge that drew his parents together....[their] small home field so tussocky that it was no doubt quicker to gnaw it down than mow it, and the pastures were wet. The sea kept them alive, it keeps all of us alive who live here at the outer limit of the world. (p 31) But the sea has been taking lives and hurting families for generations. People are alive, have their moments, their kisses, laughter, their embraces, words of endearment, their joys and sorrows, each life is a universe that then collapses and leaves nothing behind but a few objects that acquire attractive power through the deaths of their owners, become important, sometimes sacred, as if pieces of the life that has left us have been transferred to the coffee cup, the saw, the hairbrush, the scarf. But everything fades in the end.... (p 32) I have so many more places marked, but it becomes useless. You should read the book, especially if you enjoy poetry and descriptive prose and the dark night of the soul that Icelandic literature can embody so well. The boy is a wonderful creation, as are the other characters who surround him. Strongly recommended.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Himanshu

    We might not need words to survive; on the other hand, we do need words to live My backpack was set, stuffed with all the essentials that I'd need for a trip of my lifetime, as I hoped. I spent a month planning and collecting all the things that I would need, might need, or even might not need, to survive. And pff of course, my Kindle and a paperback, but little did I know that I was carrying a meaning so ethereal yet panoptic until the flight took off and I started reading the first We might not need words to survive; on the other hand, we do need words to live My backpack was set, stuffed with all the essentials that I'd need for a trip of my lifetime, as I hoped. I spent a month planning and collecting all the things that I would need, might need, or even might not need, to survive. And pff of course, my Kindle and a paperback, but little did I know that I was carrying a meaning so ethereal yet panoptic until the flight took off and I started reading the first few pages of this wonderful book. The setting was cold, real cold, in the book I mean, the kind which touches your fingers holding those words and then slowly creeps up to your chest. And there came a storm in the heathen sea. A reluctant dawn, one boat, six men, five jackets, a verse from Paradise Lost, and a motherly woman at the shore with her feet in the sand and her heart in that boat. Who is to say if there was only one soul that danced with death that day? The depths of the sea are innocent of all evil, they are just life and death, while there would certainly be a need to make a sign of the cross over the lines not just once but at least ten thousand times if we were to sink them into the depths of the human soul A tap on my shoulder woke me from the trance and a finger pointed me towards the window by my side. The sight was nothing I haven't seen before but this time it had a whole new meaning. Looking out of that safe interior into the infinity of clouds and skies I felt as if I was in that boat, having my feet on the same uncertain ground and my thoughts circling around the same verse. Their raging ocean and my unrelenting sky; their dawn and my dusk; their coming alive and my abeyance from the world. But how did that happen? Jón Kalman Stefánsson. Our existence is a relentless search for a solution, what comforts us, whatever gives us happiness, drives away all bad things. Some travel a long and difficult road and perhaps find nothing at all, except for some sort of purpose, a king of liberation or relief in the search itself, the rest of us admire their tenacity but have enough trouble ourselves simply existing, so we take cure-alls instead of searching, continually asking what is the shortest path to happiness, and we find the answer in God, science, brennivin, Chinese Vital Elixir. A poem that this book is sings not only the songs of dreams and death and purpose of life, but also of the absurdities and the longings we are prey to. It celebrates the fact that most important questions of life are unanswerable and mourns our inability to stop questioning. It dreams of red lips, sugary nights, soft hair, and sea deep eyes. It challenges the deep calm of mountains, the shadowy moonlight, and the power of a verse to save a life. It is, more than anything, a poem that summons faith through the chariot of words that rides on horizon that separates Heaven and Hell. Some poems take us places where no words reach, no thought, they take you up to the core itself, life stops for one moment and becomes beautiful, it becomes clear with regret and happiness. Some poems change the day, the night, your life. Some poems make you forget, forget the sadness, the hopelessness.... My trip came to an end but the boy is still wandering through his uncertainties. I shall catch him up soon in the remaining two books of this series when I get to it but for now I know one thing for sure, I have created a memory for myself stitched by thread of words, coloured by dreams and longings, and textured by the landscape of Ladakh which will come to life spotless whenever I think of this book or the trip. They are both married forever now. Tso Moriri Lake, Ladakh

  7. 4 out of 5

    Cheryl

    Hell is not knowing whether we are alive or dead. Life is that expanse of time that could be green, blue, silver, or black. What color will life take? We don't know the color we will get, nor the moment the tide will change. We are all fishermen, traversing this beautiful and painful sea called life. Life is Heaven and Hell. "There is hardly anything as beautiful as the sea on good days, or clear nights, when it dreams and the gleam of the moon is its dream. But the sea is not a bit beautiful Hell is not knowing whether we are alive or dead. Life is that expanse of time that could be green, blue, silver, or black. What color will life take? We don't know the color we will get, nor the moment the tide will change. We are all fishermen, traversing this beautiful and painful sea called life. Life is Heaven and Hell. "There is hardly anything as beautiful as the sea on good days, or clear nights, when it dreams and the gleam of the moon is its dream. But the sea is not a bit beautiful, and we hate it more than anything else when the waves rise..." this is the juxtaposition of life on the sea. A small village exists mostly through work provided by the sea: cod fishermen whose lives in a boat sometimes depend on the simple things, like waterproof boots from America. And poetry. For how else can one dream, in spite of the darkness, if one cannot even have words? Milton wrote without sight, so imagine the metaphorical weight this Icelandic novel pulls when it introduces a character infatuated by Paradise Lost in the midst of his darkness and despair. Poetry is centralized in this lyrical novel, and the words flow smooth and clear, like the sea on a sunny afternoon. Like the sea, it meanders occasionally, flows over rocks and sharp edges, loses the reader who is distracted by the eerie undulation. Exposition toys with story, subtleties are caressed, and philosophy is embedded with lucidity. The pace teases, is dilatory, and then in those still moments it is shrill and surprising, especially sixty pages in when a jolting scene is unveiled. Everything, story and style, seems to mirror the sea, as life itself does draw a parallel to this divine expanse of water; living beings live and die, struggle and succeed, and the only thing we can do is hope deep inside, where the heart beats and dreams dwell, that no life is wasted, is without purpose.

  8. 5 out of 5

    JimZ

    I read this book in two sittings — I read the first part of the book in the morning and the second part in the afternoon. After I had read the first part, I was blown away by the plot and the writing and was looking forward to giving it 5 stars when all was said and done. But I had work to do in the morning so had to put the book aside for later on in the day. When I was reading the second half of the book, I stopped at one point and scribbled in my notes “I don’t know what happened. This book i I read this book in two sittings — I read the first part of the book in the morning and the second part in the afternoon. After I had read the first part, I was blown away by the plot and the writing and was looking forward to giving it 5 stars when all was said and done. But I had work to do in the morning so had to put the book aside for later on in the day. When I was reading the second half of the book, I stopped at one point and scribbled in my notes “I don’t know what happened. This book is so boring!” Then fortunately, the book “picked up” again. So while overall I am glad to give it 4 stars, I wanted to give it 5 but couldn’t because of the temporary boredom. And I know what caused the boredom — it was a distraction that the author deliberately put into the novel, and it beats the hell out of me why he did it — see spoiler alert below for the distraction. ☹ That being said, there was so much to admire in this somewhat short novel (211 pages, softcover) that I hope everybody who reads this review who has not read this book considers it for their to-be-read list (and read the reviews in the web addresses below). It was such a wonderful find! 😊 The first part of the book is about fishermen and their loved ones in a coastal area of Iceland, shortly before they go out on a bleak day in March to go fishing for cod, and then when they are out on the sea. The writing is just pitch-perfect in which one of the main protagonists is introduced as “the boy” (he is actually a young man) and we learn about him and about his slightly older friend, Bárður. Bárður right before he leaves the fishing hut to go onto the boat has to read one more line from a book an old blind sea captain has lent him, Milton’s Paradise Lost (Bárður is in love and the line is: Nothing is sweet to me, without thee). It turns out to be fateful. The impending snowstorm, and when it hits them when they are nearly done with the fishing, is terrifying and suspenseful and agonizing. They make it back to land but something tragic has happened when they were at sea. And you know me…my lips are sealed. 🤐 “The boy” after the tragedy at sea doubts that he wants to live anymore. In the second part of the book we learn what he finally decides to do… As I said one reason to read this book is for the writing…sometimes the prose was uber-awesome. To wit, this is “the boy” ruminating while writing a letter to a friend about the tragedy at sea: • “He stares confusedly at the pen. Absolutely doesn’t want to die. The will to live sits in his bones, it runs in his blood, what are you, life? He asks silently but is so incredibly far from answering, which isn’t strange, we don’t have ready answers, yet have lived and also died, crossed the borders that no-one sees but are still the only ones that matters. What are you, life? Perhaps the answer is found in the question, the wonder that is implicit in it. Does the light of life dwindle and turn to darkness as soon as we stop wondering, stop questioning and take life like every other commonplace thing?” (view spoiler)[ I did not like that the author took a detour well into the second part of the book when I am wondering what is going to happen to “the boy” — what will be the fate he puts on himself or that fate puts on him — and the author speaking in the third person in the book decides to deviate from the story of “the boy” and for 30 pages+ talks about a ship captain, Brynjólfur, who likes to drink and is having doubts about his marriage. It was an unwanted distraction I could have done without, and detracted from the overall splendor of the book. (hide spoiler)] A note about the names of the characters. They are Icelandic (different fonts and accents over letters) and they all sounded the same to me. ☹ For the first half it wasn’t difficult but I was having a tough go of it in the second part. Because they were all important names in the novel…and I had a hard time differentiating them: Guðrún, Guðjón, GeirÞrúður, Brynjólfur, Ragnheiður, Þorvaldur…I would get flummoxed when reading the names Guðrún, Guðjón, GeirÞrúður all in one paragraph. I kept on having to refer back to my notes…ah, Guðrún is Reverend Þorvaldur’s wife and Guðjón is a rich old man who was married to the younger GeirÞrúður… Cod have lived for 120 million years. I did not know that. Did you? Reviews and such: https://www.thebooksmugglers.com/2011... https://tonysreadinglist.wordpress.co... (Jim: Well after reading this review I just found out there is a sequel to this book and that it is the first of three-part trilogy: Heaven and Hell, The Sorrow of Angels and The Heart of Man) https://readingmattersblog.com/2012/0...

  9. 4 out of 5

    Edward

    The environment of the novel is harsh and capricious: a physical manifestation of the unseen forces of nature to which we are all subject. Between these elemental forces there is conflict and contrast, darkness and light. But this frame creates diverse subjective experiences; it affects us all in different ways. Jón Kalman explores the inner world of his characters individually and successively, in a manner that reminded me somewhat of Woolf's The Waves. The epic tone is diminished a little in t The environment of the novel is harsh and capricious: a physical manifestation of the unseen forces of nature to which we are all subject. Between these elemental forces there is conflict and contrast, darkness and light. But this frame creates diverse subjective experiences; it affects us all in different ways. Jón Kalman explores the inner world of his characters individually and successively, in a manner that reminded me somewhat of Woolf's The Waves. The epic tone is diminished a little in the second half of the novel, but what remains is an unflinching seriousness towards the profound challenges of life, death and change. These forces that move us are perhaps more subtle than the physical ones, but equally fickle; equally unfathomable. The human capacity toward art and love provide a counterbalance to the natural world - the heaven to its hell - and are the key to our endurance.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Laysee

    "Nothing is sweet to me, without thee."- Jón Kalman Stefánsson Set in a fishing community off the north Icelandic coast, “Heaven and Hell” is an achingly beautiful story about loss and the search for a reason to live when all the light has gone out. The central character is simply referred to as the boy. That he has no name suggests the universality of coming to terms with losing someone we love – an experience from which no one is spared in life. The book opens with the words “We are nearly dark "Nothing is sweet to me, without thee."- Jón Kalman Stefánsson Set in a fishing community off the north Icelandic coast, “Heaven and Hell” is an achingly beautiful story about loss and the search for a reason to live when all the light has gone out. The central character is simply referred to as the boy. That he has no name suggests the universality of coming to terms with losing someone we love – an experience from which no one is spared in life. The book opens with the words “We are nearly darkness”. It foreshadows the tragedy that will descend upon a boatful of men fishing for cod on a frosty night. The boy’s buddy, Bárður, forgot his waterproof coat and froze to death; the reason for that fatal act of forgetfulness is more than I or any lover of poetry can bear. For the boy, this loss comes on the heels of earlier deaths in his family and he wonders "How much can the human heart endure?" Why and how should he live? This is all the plot there is to this story. Jón Kalman Stefánsson writes in a lush lyrical style that is melodic and elegiac. The book is translated from Icelandic language into English by Philip Roughton. The sentences tend to be very long, strung together by commas where periods perhaps ought to be. However, the meaning remains clear and the Icelandic landscape sings in the poetry of Stefansson's haunting prose. On many levels, this is a book about contrasts: nature and man; darkness and light; heaven and hell; words and silence. The mountains are ancient, immovable, eternal; the sea is mighty and pitiless even as it holds out promise of freedom and fish. In contrast, the fishermen’s boat is an open coffin tossed to and fro by the murderous surf. The destiny of the skippers and fishermen are inextricably bound up with the vacillating forces of nature. Those interactions can spell Heaven or Hell. Light is a key theme. Recalling news of his father’s drowning, the boy records, "It was a neighbor who came and extinguished the light of the world." Light is not always welcome because "Moonlight can leave us defenseless. It causes us to remember, wounds tear open and we bleed." Light is keeping beautiful memories alive. The boy’s mother writes him stories about his father so that he can always be warmed by the light of these precious memories. True to the title of the book, heaven and hell are richly expounded upon and hold up powerful metaphors for elemental human needs. Hell is loneliness – “...having arms but no one to embrace". It is a dead person. Hell is ambivalence – “...not knowing whether we are alive or dead”. Hell is a world without books - “… a library and you’re blind”. It should not surprise us that Heaven is closer than we think or care to appreciate. It is being fed when we are famished: "...at such moment coffee and rye bread are Heaven itself". Heaven is the simple things in life because "Happiness is having something to eat, to have escaped the storm, come through the breakers that roar just behind the land...". This is a book in which words are all important. Words reach out like a soothing balm when the arms of the dead no longer can. The words in this book are Heaven made flesh. The boy finds a measure of healing in sharing his story of loss with three new friends. It brings to mind Joan Didion’s “The Year of Magical Thinking” wherein she too finds solace in telling how she coped with the death of her beloved husband. I am reminded again that great literature “send out words like rescue teams when days are difficult”. Even so, Stefánsson reminds us that words are inadequate and "we become lost and die out on the heaths of life if we have nothing to hold but a dip pen". Alas, sometimes, words are all we have. Stefánsson is my first Icelandic writer. I am very thankful to have made his acquaintance and look forward to reading more of his writing.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Luís

    The history of this book exerts a remarkable power over the human imagination. Figurative speech can help the trans-figuration of what we see, feel, and think. In this sense, those who hope to find definitions or stereotypes about Hell or Paradise deceived. The fabric of human relations and the metaphorical space of the world is too costly and complex to be crystallized or statist in rigid concepts. Heaven and Hell do not widen into complex philosophical reflections that, if truth be told, when The history of this book exerts a remarkable power over the human imagination. Figurative speech can help the trans-figuration of what we see, feel, and think. In this sense, those who hope to find definitions or stereotypes about Hell or Paradise deceived. The fabric of human relations and the metaphorical space of the world is too costly and complex to be crystallized or statist in rigid concepts. Heaven and Hell do not widen into complex philosophical reflections that, if truth be told, when wrongly thought, break the rhythm of novels and exude useless pretensions. Stefansson, on the other hand, reaps much of the practical Judeo-Christian wisdom present in the wisdom books and the gospels. This parable arises in the context of an Icelandic fishing community. Situated at the end of the 19th century, the violence of the sea, the separation of the world from the mountains in local and human geography, seems to leave no room for the "dream of light" (Victor Erice). This geography of physical isolation is a symbol of human distance indifferent to the death of Bárður. Water that symbolizes life and the agitated possibility of dying, the sea interrogates the men who navigate in it, and in it, Hell is now incarnated and now Paradise. At the bottom, "the depths of the sea are free from all evil, they are only life and death, while there would be a need to bless the lines, not just one, but at least ten thousand times, if we had to send them down into the depths of the human soul " (p.53) Romance full of sensuality, silent and initiative, here prayer is the expression of a dancing body, syncopated by the waves of the sea. It is not apart from life, but it springs from the depth of events. The sea is the temple that teaches sharing and the breaking of bread and feels the weight of the words addressed to the Creator. Prayer that comes from life, which conjugated with the things of daily life, a knowledge not exclusively thought, but felt and affective. There is here a profound theology and Christology. That's a prayer that evokes the servant as a condition for a believing acceptance of human living; worshipper that does not appeal to mere assistance, or a reductive game of giving and receiving. On the contrary, it brings forth the time and space of existing in the Word that makes all things. The evocation of the blessing of God is not magic or ritualism but a sign of our precariousness. Faith nurtured with trust, without excess or defect, which elevates all that we are to one another in the love of God. There remains the call for a close reading of this small masterpiece of contemporary literature. The writer Italo Calvino affirmed that "a classic is a book that never finished saying what it had to say". All about Paradise and Hell has not yet said. The fundamental condition for apprehending it may be silence, the suspension of our pre-judgments without refusing to think seriously about the text.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Carolyn

    This has to be one of the finest books I have read in a very long time. One can open just about any page at random and find a phrase, a paragraph, of such astonishing poetic beauty that one is compelled to re-read it immediately. Jon Kalman said in an interview that, for him, poetry and narrative were the same thing, and he cannot help but blend the two. The plot is simple, but profound. At its most elemental, it is the coming of age story of an unnamed boy, beset by tragedy, hardship, loss and y This has to be one of the finest books I have read in a very long time. One can open just about any page at random and find a phrase, a paragraph, of such astonishing poetic beauty that one is compelled to re-read it immediately. Jon Kalman said in an interview that, for him, poetry and narrative were the same thing, and he cannot help but blend the two. The plot is simple, but profound. At its most elemental, it is the coming of age story of an unnamed boy, beset by tragedy, hardship, loss and yet who finds some sort of redemptive haven. Again, the characterisation is both simple and profound. The atmosphere of the time and place, a remote fishing village in the north western fjords at the end of the 19th century, is captured perfectly. 'The authorities, merchants, might rule our destitute days, but the mountains and the sea rule life.' The weather is a character in its own right, as it is in many Icelandic books. However, it is the exquisite nature of the writing itself which makes this novel so powerful - its similes, metaphors, imagery and even the aphorisms. I started to jot down quotes to use in this review, but there was such an overwhelming number of them that I gave up. This book cannot be recommended highly enough. It is excellent, even by Icelandic standards!

  13. 5 out of 5

    Deea

    What if Hell is a library and you're blind? What can Heaven be? What if Hell is a library and you're blind? What can Heaven be?

  14. 5 out of 5

    Michael

    Beautiful beyond belief, as stark as Iceland's shores, as full of life, as full of death as Ocean when it roars. A telling worth the hearing by a bard who knows the sea and the land and the men who dwell theron, singing the truth in magic words. Who could improve upon "Words vary. Some are bright, others dark; April, for instance, is a bright word. The days grow longer, their brightness comes like a spear-thrust into the darkness. One morning we wake and the plover has arrived, the sun has come Beautiful beyond belief, as stark as Iceland's shores, as full of life, as full of death as Ocean when it roars. A telling worth the hearing by a bard who knows the sea and the land and the men who dwell theron, singing the truth in magic words. Who could improve upon "Words vary. Some are bright, others dark; April, for instance, is a bright word. The days grow longer, their brightness comes like a spear-thrust into the darkness. One morning we wake and the plover has arrived, the sun has come closer, the grass appears from beneath the snow and turns green, the fishing boats are launched after having slept through the long winter and dreamt of the sea. The word April is composed of light, birdsong, and eager anticipation. April is the most hopeful of months." And who could deny the truth of "Hell Is Not Knowing Whether We Are Alive or Dead." The novel is a meditation on the knife's edge that separates life and death, those who are alive and those who no longer are. For those who have experienced the loss of one who defined the meaning of life and who have wandered in that shadowland between life and death, Heaven and Hell, not knowing in which domain they should reside, this is an affirmation of the decision not to sleep in the snowdrift, not to slip into the sea. "Nothing is sweet to me, without thee," wrote Milton, and yet we are all called to live in the face of the death of those we love. Darkness gives way to light, and death guides the living to Life in this brilliant novel. Highly recommended.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Ms. Smartarse

    Our nameless hero lives in an Icelandic village, during the 19th century (I think?). Amidst the unforgiving conditions of this country, our main character's only source of happiness is his best friend Bá­­ður. He loves to read more than anything, and dreams of leaving the fishermen's village and its harsh living conditions behind. Unfortunately Bá­­ður gets so absorbed in Paradise Lost, that he forgets to bring his waterproof on a fishing expedition, and freezes to death. Our protagonist is unde Our nameless hero lives in an Icelandic village, during the 19th century (I think?). Amidst the unforgiving conditions of this country, our main character's only source of happiness is his best friend Bá­­ður. He loves to read more than anything, and dreams of leaving the fishermen's village and its harsh living conditions behind. Unfortunately Bá­­ður gets so absorbed in Paradise Lost, that he forgets to bring his waterproof on a fishing expedition, and freezes to death. Our protagonist is understandably devastated, moreso when he realizes he's the only one who cares about Bá­­ður's death. The other fishermen callously move on to gutting their catch, rather than mourn their young companion. Shocked by this cruel reality, our main character (secretly) decides to follow his dear friend, right after her returns the fatal book, to its original owner. I'm not sure about you, but run on sentences have always been my bane. Though barely passing the 200 page mark, it felt like one of the longest books I've read. And yes, that's in spite of the 'mere' half day I spent on it. The book's main selling point, and conversely also the main obstacle I've had to overcome, was the narrator's style of story-telling. Often times peppered with lovely descriptive sequences like: The mountains tower above life and death and these houses huddling together on the Spit. We live at the bottom of a bowl, the day passes, turns to evening, it is filled with the serenity of darkness and then the stars kindle. But just as often we get phrases that seem to last for an entire paragraph: Yesterday the storm’s fury had slackened so much that they could clear rocks from the landing, clambered down there, twelve in number from both huts, two crews, toiled away moving huge stones tossed by the sea onto the landing, mere pebbles beneath which they lost their footing, scratched and bloodied themselves, six hours of labour on the slippery foreshore. Add to this the unreliable nature of a narrator I was expecting to be an omniscient one... 10 pages in, I was ready to give up on yet another book. And I truly would have, if it hadn't been a recommendation. Instead, I decided to find some reviews, hoping that there might be a more "accessible" translation available. No such thing happened, but I did find out that the story is narrated by the voices of ghosts from the past. I can't say this was exactly an epiphany, as I had to keep reading for another 50 pages until I found the source of this statement. Still, just the knowledge of the nature of the narrator made it easier for me to soldier on. Eventually, I did get used to the narration style, and by the end of the book I even found myself getting immersed in the lenghty descriptive passages of (an otherwise) ordinary Icelandic town and its inhabitants. Score: 4/5 stars Once you get past the overly long sentences, and manage to enjoy the lovely descriptive passages, it becomes a brilliant book. That said, I highly doubt I'll read the sequels, too exhausting.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Paul Fulcher

    "We only ask about things that are easy to answer and never let anyone near. One asks about fish, hay and sheep, not about life" A beautiful novel – short but intense. Jon Kalman Stefansson is a poet as well as a novelist, and this shows is the beautiful quality of the prose. This is a novel that one reads for the quality of the language – a prose poem – rather than the, rather slight, plot. It’s not a “page turner” – but rather a “page lingerer” – and all the better for that. The book centres aro "We only ask about things that are easy to answer and never let anyone near. One asks about fish, hay and sheep, not about life" A beautiful novel – short but intense. Jon Kalman Stefansson is a poet as well as a novelist, and this shows is the beautiful quality of the prose. This is a novel that one reads for the quality of the language – a prose poem – rather than the, rather slight, plot. It’s not a “page turner” – but rather a “page lingerer” – and all the better for that. The book centres around a late 19th /early 20th Century life in an Icelandic village, where life is hard, brutal and often short – if the water doesn’t get you the cold will (despite being fisherman none of the characters can swim, it doesn’t seem worthwhile given that someone falling in the water would freeze almost as quickly as drown). Most of the villagers are the sort of people best characterised by words such as stoic and laconic – indeed the quote above sums up their way of life. But the main character – referred to only as “the boy” – and his companion have a richer inner life, fuelled by the few books that cross their path (they talk with wonder of an acquaintance alleged to have an extensive library). When tragedy strikes, the boy’s friend, shocked by the indifferent acceptance of his fellows, seeks refuge in the tavern of a nearby town where an outsider (from Reykjavik) has gathered round her a collection of misfits. It has to be said that this book is the first part of a trilogy and reads as such – the 2nd part of the book introduces us to the characters in the town but doesn’t really resolve their story, rather setting up book 2. Philip Roughton should be congratulated on an excellent translation, maintaining the lyrical nature of the text. And I liked the way he dealt with one translation dilemma. Milton’s Paradise Lost plays a key role in the text, and one character quotes extensively from it, but, in the original, from the Icelandic translation. In the English version the obvious thing to do would be to go back to the English original rather than the alternative of re-translating the translation – but Houghton elects for the second approach. His interesting rationale is that to do so gives the English reader a better sense of the original – i.e. reading Milton in translation – and also gives a sense of how the Icelandic version differs from the original.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Irene

    It's not about the story, it's about the words, the way the story is put together. You can feel every emotion of every character. The dead souls who work as narrators of the story and the collective "us" in the book somehow brings you right where the author wants you. The images of a storm, or the snow blizzard, or simply the way Pétur sings on the boat to keep the sailors from freezing is marvelous, let alone the way the boy speaks about Bardur. Somehow, you lose contact with your reality as th It's not about the story, it's about the words, the way the story is put together. You can feel every emotion of every character. The dead souls who work as narrators of the story and the collective "us" in the book somehow brings you right where the author wants you. The images of a storm, or the snow blizzard, or simply the way Pétur sings on the boat to keep the sailors from freezing is marvelous, let alone the way the boy speaks about Bardur. Somehow, you lose contact with your reality as the words flow. Because that's what they do, they flow. Punctuation and sentence structure is completely different that what you could expect, but that's why I'd define the way this novel is written as poetry in prose. Once you pick up this book, you won't be able to put it down so easily, unless there are those poignant moments when you need to close the book for a moment, bring it closer to your heart and then sigh.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Calzean

    A bleak story but full of great imagery of the West of Iceland in the late 1800s. The central character known only as "the boy" loses his best friend while fishing during a storm. This part of the book is the most intense scene I have read of what it must have been like going off fishing in a small open yawl, leaving at 3 am, rowing for 4 hours, laying the lines, pulling them up and then running into a storm. The cold, I can still feel it. The boy then returns to the local village (he decides to r A bleak story but full of great imagery of the West of Iceland in the late 1800s. The central character known only as "the boy" loses his best friend while fishing during a storm. This part of the book is the most intense scene I have read of what it must have been like going off fishing in a small open yawl, leaving at 3 am, rowing for 4 hours, laying the lines, pulling them up and then running into a storm. The cold, I can still feel it. The boy then returns to the local village (he decides to return a copy of "Paradise Lost"). Already an orphan, now bereft of his only friend and with no intention to return to fishing, the boy contemplates suicide. The rest of the book covers a number of characters and lays the foundation of the next two books in the trilogy.

  19. 4 out of 5

    LemonLinda

    The writing in this book is phenomenal - completely on another level. It is a thought provoking book that begs to be read slowly. So many times when reading I was astounded by the way he brought in such beautiful words, such meaningful phrasing to tell us this story. My family visited Iceland, the country where this book is set, in 2015. While there I learned of the extremely high literacy rate in the country and the large number of books read annually. This one reinforces the idea that Icelandi The writing in this book is phenomenal - completely on another level. It is a thought provoking book that begs to be read slowly. So many times when reading I was astounded by the way he brought in such beautiful words, such meaningful phrasing to tell us this story. My family visited Iceland, the country where this book is set, in 2015. While there I learned of the extremely high literacy rate in the country and the large number of books read annually. This one reinforces the idea that Icelandic people are well read and shows the importance of books for so many to their daily lives. Books almost become a character in this read. I was definitely surprised by this book. I felt that it stretched me beyond my routine reading. I read it as part of a joint "Book Voyage" read by several friends from all around the country and beyond (England). Each person reading noted in the margins their thoughts as they read. I also loved reading those notes which further enhanced this great read.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Asma

    There are ordinary fishermen, some of them memorize and recite poetry ; one is lost in Milton's Paradise Lost and consequently, loses his life in Icelandic cold when cold reached his heart, entered it and then everything that had made him who he was vanished. Paradise Lost. Is it a loss of Paradise to die? On the other hand, there is a nameless boy; a dreamer; wants to accomplish something in his life, learn languages, see the world, read a thousand books and discover the core. Beautiful, lyrical, a There are ordinary fishermen, some of them memorize and recite poetry ; one is lost in Milton's Paradise Lost and consequently, loses his life in Icelandic cold when cold reached his heart, entered it and then everything that had made him who he was vanished. Paradise Lost. Is it a loss of Paradise to die? On the other hand, there is a nameless boy; a dreamer; wants to accomplish something in his life, learn languages, see the world, read a thousand books and discover the core. Beautiful, lyrical, almost poetical prose; philosophical without being heavy, pretentious or extravagant. Translation of the book is excellent. Loved the first part of the book, though second part wasn't as compelling for me. Several new characters are introduced,their names are similar and confusing. I had no idea how to pronounce Icelandic names but, there was a pronunciation guide at the end of the book. I discovered it only when I had nearly finished the novel. Death and life; power of words; love and quest of learning and books are the major themes in the novel. One dies and the other has to live — and discover the purpose of life and decide whether should he live or die when there's no apparent reason to live. "Of course, it would be good to die, no more trouble, sorrow conquered, regret conquered." "It's entirely more complicated to live. Life is a long and complicated process, to live is to question." "Hell is to be dead and to realize you didn't care for life while you had chance to do so." "They are young and have read unnecessarily much, their hearts pump more uncertainty than others'."

  21. 4 out of 5

    Diane

    I absolutely adored this book. So often, I was left speechless by the intensity of the story and the beauty of the prose. I imagine praise should be given to the translator as well as the author - I can't imagine it was an easy book to properly translate so that all of the emotional depth came across. There was a great deal of pain, suffering and loss in these pages. Yet people moved on, in spite of how hard that was and often wanting to give up which would have been so much easier. This is what I absolutely adored this book. So often, I was left speechless by the intensity of the story and the beauty of the prose. I imagine praise should be given to the translator as well as the author - I can't imagine it was an easy book to properly translate so that all of the emotional depth came across. There was a great deal of pain, suffering and loss in these pages. Yet people moved on, in spite of how hard that was and often wanting to give up which would have been so much easier. This is what we all have to do when we are dealt a hand or a blow that devastates us. If we are lucky, we will meet people along the way that can show us the light, or lend a hand, or somehow show that we really must go on. I'm certain that I never would have read this book had it not been for our Novel Ideas Book Voyage and Candi's selecting this book to be her choice. This is one of those books that I'm jealous of those who will be reading it for the first time. I hope that they feel the same way that I do about this story. I would give it 10 stars if I could!

  22. 5 out of 5

    Susan

    When I was reading this book, the hymn ‘For those in Peril on the Sea’ kept coming into my head.....the descriptions of the terrible conditions faced by the crews of Icelandic fisherman seeking to harvest Cod from an unforgiving ocean, in such basic boats when they had already expended huge amounts of energy rowing to the fishing grounds, were so vivid, that I found it truly frightening to read.....those men really were in peril. The author gives short, but insightful character studies of the men When I was reading this book, the hymn ‘For those in Peril on the Sea’ kept coming into my head.....the descriptions of the terrible conditions faced by the crews of Icelandic fisherman seeking to harvest Cod from an unforgiving ocean, in such basic boats when they had already expended huge amounts of energy rowing to the fishing grounds, were so vivid, that I found it truly frightening to read.....those men really were in peril. The author gives short, but insightful character studies of the men, he made them seem so real, so human, that when tragedy strikes, again, described with such searing insight and feeling, I felt shocked and saddened. The reason for the tragedy was almost silly.....and yet, for a young man caught up in his love of literature, it was perhaps understandable. The main character is so very deeply affected by these awful events....he wants to escape, to perform one last service for his lost friend, and then escape from the horrific reality of what has happened. He feels he can’t go on with life, but he’s young, and feels things deeply. His youth can also save him though.....and the cast of weird and wonderful characters he encounters in the second half of this fairly short, fairly simple, yet hugely emotionally complex story make him think again, and reconsider his first impulses. Such a good book....for me, not easy to get into at first, but well worth the effort.

  23. 4 out of 5

    TheBookSmugglers

    That awkward moment when you are supposed to be writing your thoughts about a book then you realise you are not exactly sure how you feel about it. … The collective voices from the past come to tell us stories of people long gone and forgotten. In Iceland, a hundred years ago, fishermen prepare to go back to the sea in search for cod, their main source of sustenance and income. Their lives are difficult, bleak. They are poor, the weather is unfriendly, the dangerous sea is both friend and foe and That awkward moment when you are supposed to be writing your thoughts about a book then you realise you are not exactly sure how you feel about it. … The collective voices from the past come to tell us stories of people long gone and forgotten. In Iceland, a hundred years ago, fishermen prepare to go back to the sea in search for cod, their main source of sustenance and income. Their lives are difficult, bleak. They are poor, the weather is unfriendly, the dangerous sea is both friend and foe and the only certainty is the hardship that awaits them. Still, on they go and still, they dream and they hope. A few hardened men including a nameless boy and his best friend Barður are on their boat in the middle of their shift when Barður realises he forgot his waterproof – and the waterproof is what lies between life and death. They try to keep him warm but keeping warm in the middle of the unforgiving, cold sea is impossible and thus Barður dies. He dies because he was so distracted by the poetry and beauty of Paradise Lost that he forgot to pick up his waterproof before leaving on the boat. He dies and yet, life moves on. And this is something that the boy cannot bear and his grief is so intense he leaves the sea and the fishing for good and joins the people who live in the main Village. Perhaps he will join Barður in death. Maybe he will carry on, regardless. The first thing of note about Heaven and Hell is its narrative. The narrative voice is a collective “we” and are presumably, the voice of ghosts from the past (literally) telling the story of their settlement. The narration comes in a stream of consciousness, flowing as the voices are remembering the past, without a lot of punctuation and without any dialogue breaks. It is not an easy book to read at first but one does get used to its rhythm after a while. An example: It’s about time, the boy answers, a bit winded after the hike. Two hours since they set out. They finished their coffee and cakes in the German Bakery, made three stops and then plodded out of the Village, a two-hour trudge through deep snow. Their feet are wet, of course they are wet, we were always wet those years, death will dry them, the old folk said when someone complained sometimes the old folk know less than nothing. The boy adjusts his bag, heavy from what we cannot do without, Barður adjusts nothing, he just stands and watches, whistles a bit of a blurred melody, appears not to be tried at all, damnit, says the boy, I’m panting like an old dog but it’s as if you haven’t taken a single step today. Barður looks at him with those brown, austral eyes of his and grins. Some of us have brown eyes, fishermen come here from distant places and have done so for hundreds of years because the sea is a treasure chest. They come from France, Spain, many of them with brown eyes, and some leave the colour of their eyes behind with a woman, sail away, return home or drown. The interesting thing about the narrative is how it is both uncertain and self-assured. It is uncertain because as ghosts from the past, the narrators don’t seem to remember everything, they can’t even name the main character, the main point of view they have chosen to follow. They most definitely do not understand how can they be in that state of being between dead and alive – still conscious but without moving on. At the same time, they are completely sure of the thoughts and feelings of everybody they mention – because they are everybody. They also seem to have garnered that sort of commanding knowledge about life and sometimes present to the reader dogmatic thoughts about life, the universe and everything. Things like: he who has no dream is in danger light that can illuminate a good line of poetry has surely achieved its purpose On the one hand I thought that the mixture of uncertainty and certainty that the narrators seem to have – they are both unreliable and reliable – does fit the fact that they are ghosts. It is therefore, easy to accept that the dead would both have memory problems (being dead for so long) but also have that sort of certainty that being settled in their own ways provide. On the other hand, although some of dogmatic lines are quite poetic and beautiful, I can’t seem to shake off the feeling that they are too arrogant in their heavy-handiness, and even, clichéd. The main themes of the novel are how one confronts one’s frail mortality and how one can find beauty even in bleakness and hardship and I feel that I am supposed to be awed by the fact that SURPRISE! there is beauty and friendship in the world even when life is so hard and bleak. I am supposed to be surprised by how people love to read and find comfort in it despite poverty? Well, sorry, I am not. That being said, in terms of the story itself, the book is divided in two parts. The first half, the fishing trip, the one that follows the day Barður dies – the moments just before it, the moments just after it – are quite evocative and taut with nearly unbearable tension. In that first part, when following the lives of those men, when witnessing their struggles and hearing their dreams, it is easy to be engulfed and transported to that moment in time and to understand and even appreciate the aforementioned themes of the novel. It is a shame then that the second part of the novel is so unfocused. When the boy moves to the village, the narrative becomes disjointed, the points of view are scattered all over the place and the bleakness is extrapolated to involve several different characters. And yes, to be completely honest, part of me thinks Heaven and Hell is pretentious and over preoccupied with the bleakest aspects of life. Part of me has been examining my own mortality ever since finishing it.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Alfred Haplo

    Idiots. Those boys are idiots, and they move me. For the love of reading Paradise Lost, one dies. For the love of a friend, one almost does. Books and youth are heaven when you have them, hell when you have them together. Characters find comfort in words, in companionship, in beauty, for life is more bearable lived inside out until someone lets the outside in to freeze all that once was life. Hell is never colder than upon death but the warmth of life before, and if we are so fortunate, also aft Idiots. Those boys are idiots, and they move me. For the love of reading Paradise Lost, one dies. For the love of a friend, one almost does. Books and youth are heaven when you have them, hell when you have them together. Characters find comfort in words, in companionship, in beauty, for life is more bearable lived inside out until someone lets the outside in to freeze all that once was life. Hell is never colder than upon death but the warmth of life before, and if we are so fortunate, also after, must mean that heaven exists. Jón Kalman Stefánsson’s Heaven and Hell * lays bare the stark desolation of a remote Icelandic fishing community and the old souls of those who live, lived, lives on, with an artist’s eye for imagery and a poet’s touch for epic. To experience Heaven and Hell is to let go. This is an immersive read, for when the mind is willing to traverse the deep, dark seas where words swirl in hypnotic ripples that seem to never end, and all the time our consciousness floats and sinks with each literary wave. You learn about survival out in those frigid waters, where the cod swims lively, against those harsh elements, where fish taunts livelihoods, and if you make it home, you never come home empty-handed. You will have your life, and sometimes, your fish too. Young Bárður left both behind, and so never returned. His friend, the nameless boy, having first experienced heaven, then hell, cannot let him go. The nameless boy makes a journey towards his own death but finds himself at a crossroads, and is delayed. The second half of the story expands this isolated world into the neighboring village, valleys away, with more characters, and each with their own inner journey. New perspectives break my trance and I reluctantly come ashore then, mentally, as my mind was out at sea, haunted, by the first half of the book. Haunted, still. Heaven and Hell is thematic of juxtapositions, with a very simple plot that enhances the complexity of frailties and triumphs against nature, that of human and environment. Where there is joy, there is also tragedy, and one always precedes the other as neither can be absent. And so I both loathed and dared for hope, that characters having settled in this tiny, snowy place on earth with its strong coffee and fishy smells and old books and the mundane and shared kindness, find in their hearts that heaven and hell can co-exist where no journey needs to be walked alone. This is a fairly short book, but feels much, much longer than 240+ pages largely due to the density of feelings packed into sentences swimming marathons. Had it not been for the unexpected at the very end, the story would have been far too settled, far too abruptly. Two remaining books make up this trilogy, which I will read on. Since this is my first Icelandic-translated novel, encountered thanks to Cecily’s review here, I wonder if the free-flowing, free-forming lyrical style is unique to Kalman or to Icelandic literature. Heaven and Hell is not a book that everyone will love, but those who love it will love it to its depth and its height. Spillover notes here, non-spoiler. [* Heaven and Hell (#1, translator Phillip Roughton 2010), Sorrow of Angel (#2), The Heart of Man (#3). Jon Kalman Stefansson, winner Icelandic Prize Literature, multiple nominations Nordic Council Prize for Literature.]

  25. 4 out of 5

    Sanja_Sanjalica

    I am quite speechless about this book, it was so much more than I expected, so poetic, beautifully written, captivating, mystical and real. A true gem.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Julie Kasinski

    It is one of those books that you read, close and reflect on wondering "What did I just read?". I picked this book totally randomly. The summary at the back cover intrigued me enough and I realised I've never read anything from an Icelandic author. It was enough for me (my interest is easily bought when it comes to book). As I was ready to pay, the owner of my favorite bookshop told me it was easily the best book she has read in 10 years. It totally captivated me. Usually, I am a book carnivore. It is one of those books that you read, close and reflect on wondering "What did I just read?". I picked this book totally randomly. The summary at the back cover intrigued me enough and I realised I've never read anything from an Icelandic author. It was enough for me (my interest is easily bought when it comes to book). As I was ready to pay, the owner of my favorite bookshop told me it was easily the best book she has read in 10 years. It totally captivated me. Usually, I am a book carnivore. I don't read books, I devour them. Once I am caught in the characters and plot, I cannot stop and I have to finish it as fast as I can. With Heaven and Hell, I caught my self slowing down. I wanted this collision between Heaven and Hell, between Life and Death, between the Sea and the Mountains to keep going. As I was reflecting on the story, I realised that there is no big surprises in this book. The summary at the back of the book which intrigued me so much was accurate and self-sufficient. Some readers could feel frustrated by this kind of "plot deadlock". Some readers, just like me, will probably be mesmerised by the poetry that lies in each word. You might hate it. Or it might just be one of the best book you've read in 10 years. For me, it is definitely the latter one.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Betty Asma

    I had never heard of Jon Kalman Stefansson & what a loss that lacuna in my recognition was. For 99% of this story, the author's true-to-life story reverberates with unanswered questions about purpose in life & about sin's value in a full life. The story's told from the vantage of an exceedingly shy, fatherless boy, who recently lost his best adult friend Barthur during a gale at sea. That tragedy is fueled by excessively lofty attention to a borrowed copy of Milton's "Paradise Lost" to the forge I had never heard of Jon Kalman Stefansson & what a loss that lacuna in my recognition was. For 99% of this story, the author's true-to-life story reverberates with unanswered questions about purpose in life & about sin's value in a full life. The story's told from the vantage of an exceedingly shy, fatherless boy, who recently lost his best adult friend Barthur during a gale at sea. That tragedy is fueled by excessively lofty attention to a borrowed copy of Milton's "Paradise Lost" to the forgetfulness of practicalities. Though they powerfully affect a person's consciousness, words & sagas do not affect nature's power; departed spirits & angelic forms are lifeless. The lonesome boy carries out Barthur's last request, returning the volume of epic poetry at his numbed peril through a late-winter snowstorm in the Icelandic mountains. Reaching the Village in a dejected state of mind, he becomes the concern of several characters with plenty of unsavory life experience. The book is the first volume of the trilogy Heaven and Hell.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Helen

    Beautifully written, poetic evocation of landscape and a way of life, and a study of grief and loss in various forms. "Paradise lost" in its early Icelandic translation plays a part in the plot, and it was interesting to read the translator's note at the end, giving a version of quotations which have been translated back into English alongside Milton's original, which reads very differently. I found it hard to put this book down. There is not really much plot, but it doesn't matter - quite a lot Beautifully written, poetic evocation of landscape and a way of life, and a study of grief and loss in various forms. "Paradise lost" in its early Icelandic translation plays a part in the plot, and it was interesting to read the translator's note at the end, giving a version of quotations which have been translated back into English alongside Milton's original, which reads very differently. I found it hard to put this book down. There is not really much plot, but it doesn't matter - quite a lot of the characters' stories is conveyed very succinctly. Apparently this is the beginning of a trilogy - I can't quite imagine what is to come next!

  29. 5 out of 5

    Anamaria T.

    This book is number 1 in my top 10 this year.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Vinni Dalpiccol

    This is a book about hell. About death, about feeling helpless and having no reason to go on anymore. It’s a book about choices and contrasts. But heaven is found in the words. The reality of a village somewhere in northern Iceland in the 19th century is the perfect setting for such a contrast. When everything is as uncertain as it was back in those times, when darkness is all we have for a good half of the year and no matter how much we fight the cold, it will reach us eventually, we have to find This is a book about hell. About death, about feeling helpless and having no reason to go on anymore. It’s a book about choices and contrasts. But heaven is found in the words. The reality of a village somewhere in northern Iceland in the 19th century is the perfect setting for such a contrast. When everything is as uncertain as it was back in those times, when darkness is all we have for a good half of the year and no matter how much we fight the cold, it will reach us eventually, we have to find other ways to warm ourselves. In those cases, it’s okay to find solace in words. As long as we don’t rely solely on them, because of course “words are not enough and we become lost and die out in the heaths of life if we have nothing to hold but a dip pen.” The story is simple and serves mostly as a background for the wonderful prose that carries the reader through this book. A boy loses his friend on a fishing expedition. A friend who was too busy memorizing lines from Paradise Lost to remember to bring his windbreaker along. The boy sets out to return the book to its owner so that later he can meet his friend in death. But even though the choice between “life” and “death” might seem simple, everyone hesitates. Everyone trembles from time to time, looking over to the other side, wondering if the simple exit is the right exit. If it’s about time we leave this life we came to. And as complicated as life is, even “dying has its responsibilities.” This is a book that will touch you if you allow yourself to be touched. It’s a book that will make you think, make you drop it halfway through to reflect on a passage you just read, it’s a book that will give you a new way of looking at the smallest things, and it’s a book that will motivate you. Heaven is to be found in the words. But hell, well… “Hell is to be dead and to realize that you did not care for life while you had the chance to do so.” Also available on http://askvinni.com/books/heaven-and-...

Add a review

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Loading...
We use cookies to give you the best online experience. By using our website you agree to our use of cookies in accordance with our cookie policy.