An Icelandic chef travels from London to Reykjavik in The Journey Home - she travels in a literal sense, and as in quality fiction, her journey takes on a metaphoric dimension as well. Her journey’s meaning is revealed to us in the course of her first-person narrative, and along the way the author treats us to some remarkable effects. This is a bewitching book, with its low-key diction and its high-strung, independent heroine.
Her name is Asdis, and is called Disa for short. In her life she goes her own way, to the chagrin and frustration of her family, her mother in particular. After “an expensive” course of training in clerical work, she opts for a career in cooking. She falls in love with and agrees to marry a German Jewish man just as World War II is starting, and this too, irks her family. In fact she and her mother become estranged. The present-day part of her story occurs long after these events, however, and although she has spells where she strongly doubts the success of her mission, she pushes on in spite of herself.
Olaf Olafsson manages this portrait with a very different but highly affecting scheme. Disa’s telling of her story has the feel of a long, one-sided conversation, drawn out through a single, talk-filled night. She bounces around in time as she weaves her tale, but don’t be fooled: none of this ever approaches aimlessness. Mr. Olafsson has a very distinct, very touching story to relate, and he bends his heroine and his style to its ends very surely. I found the whole very effective and very memorable.
Disa has her dark moments and her author deepens them with perfectly striking imagery and blunt-spoken philosophy. About 80% through the book our narrator avers:
"You grow up, people say, as if they have attained some higher wisdom, and will even put on a solemn face if they are sufficiently dishonest with themselves, or else mutter the assertion in low tones, avoiding looking in the mirror.”And a few sentences later:
"Hope is the sister of self-deception and I have learned to avoid those sisters as far as I can. Their smile is fawning and their manner false … The truth demands accuracy and concentration which sometimes makes it hard to handle.”
The accuracy and concentration here are undeniable. Mr. Olafsson gives us an unblinkingly honest heroine, one who savages herself when she feels she deserves it – you will not always agree that she does deserve it. She can be prickly at times, and a hard partner to live with; this is a complete portrait: intricate, nuanced, realistic.
I recommend this book highly to the readers who happily lose themselves in intimate psychological dramas. The author approaches his subject in a unique way, and we the readers benefit: Disa’s emotional journey deserves a wide circulation. Take this up!