When I started reading In the Footsteps of a Storyteller – A Literary Walk with Thórbergur Thórdarson I immediately got the feeling that I was on a scavenger hunt, looking for clues on how to get from place to place as in Amazing Race.
However, there is no need to race between locations, in fact, this is a book that encourages readers to take it slow, take in the environment, enjoy the view and ponder on Thórbergur Thórdarson’s words.
Born on the farm Hali in the rural district of Sudursveit, southeast Iceland, in 1888, Thórbergur Thórdarson is among Iceland’s most celebrated (and eccentric) authors. At Hali there is now a museum, Thórbergssetur, dedicated to his life and work.
Unfortunately, his books have not been translated to English. Thórdarson’s style of writing was really progressive and he seemed ahead of his time in many aspects. He certainly felt that way himself, as becomes clear in the semi-autobiographical Ofvitinn (The Wunderkind) from 1940-1941.
While reading it I got the sense that some of Iceland’s most popular contemporary authors, such as Hallgrímur Helgason, were inspired by Thórdarson’s writing style.
However, now English-speaking fans of Icelandic literature can get a taste of the author’s writing because In the Footsteps of a Storyteller includes many quotes from his works, mainly from the 1956 Steinarnir tala (“The Stones Are Talking”), where he describes his lively imagination as a child in Sudursveit.
In the Footsteps of a Storyteller does exactly what the title says, traces Thórdarson’s footsteps on the farm where he grew up and the surrounding countryside, stops at places he mentioned in his books and quotes his words about each place.
Beautifully designed and complimented with photographs from the region, the book is an enjoyable read, especially, I imagine, if readers are on location.
I picture myself taking the walk described, bringing a sandwich and a thermos of coffee, letting the author guide me through Sudursveit from the grave and from time to time stopping dead in my tracks, awestruck by the powerful presence of the massive Öraefajökull glacier and other natural wonders.
The book is also, in a way, a guide into the past as it contains historical references, descriptions of how farm work was practiced in Thórdarson’s youth and what community life was like back then.
However, what the book is lacking, in my opinion, is a prelude about the author, containing a short bio and bibliography.
I’m also missing a description of how to get to the starting point of the walk—Sudursveit doesn’t tell foreign tourists much—and maps, one showing Hali and the Thórbergssetur museum in relation to Reykjavík and another showing the walking path and the different stops.
That said, I do recommend a visit to Sudursveit, which is located close to tourist attractions such as Skaftafell national park and Jökulsárlón glacial lagoon, not to mention Vatnajökull, the largest glacier in Europe. It’s about a five-hour drive from Reykjavík.
There is a guesthouse at Hali; its website contains a wealth of information about the area and a description of how to get there. Bring the book, visit the museum and take a walk with Thórbergur Thórdarson. I’m sure it’s worth the trip.
Published in a bilingual English-German edition by Mál og menning in 2010, the book is available from the webstore nammi.is.
Eygló Svala Arnarsdóttir