Rán Flygenring’s Eruption Book Wins Nordic Council Prize

Rán Flygenring Nordic Council Prize pic by Magnus Fröderberg, norden.org.

Icelandic author and illustrator Rán Flygenring has won the 2023 Nordic Council Children and Young People’s Literature Prize for her picture book Eldgos (Volcanic Eruption, not available in English). Flygenring was awarded the prize at a ceremony in Oslo earlier this week. The jury called Eldgos an “explosively visual picture book about how wild and uncontrollable nature affects humans.”

In its rationale, the award jury wrote that Rán “skilfully weave[s] image and text into a playfully humorous story about a motley crowd of tourists that encounters a volcanic eruption. The story bursts with power, both capturing and propelling our fascination with extreme natural phenomena. Yet it also touches on conflicting emotions that arise as the land collapses, lava flows, and new mountains emerge, as well as the emotions connected to more mundane matters such as a lice epidemic or seeing your surroundings being flooded with tourists.” The jury also praised Rán’s illustrations for their “subtle details that will capture the attention of young readers.”

The Nordic Council Children and Young People’s Literature Prize has been awarded since 2013 in order to promote children’s and youth literature in the Nordic region. A total of 14 Nordic picture books, children’s books, and youth novels received nominations for this year’s prize.

New Book Exposes YMCA Founder’s Dark Past

Friðrik Friðriksson

A new book authored by historian Guðmundur Magnússon alleges that Reverend Friðrik Friðriksson, founder of YMCA/YWCA Iceland, made sexual advances towards a minor. Following an interview with the author on the Kilja literary programme on RÚV, the YMCA/YWCA leadership expressed shock and commitment to uncovering the truth. A spokesperson for Stígamót has said that more individuals had sought professional counselling because of Reverend Friðrik.

Friðrik and his boys

A new book by historian Guðmundur Magnússon about Reverend Friðrik Friðriksson – an Icelandic priest who founded YMCA/YWCA Iceland and the athletic clubs Haukar and Valur – reveals that Friðrik made sexual advances towards a minor. Guðmundur was a guest of journalist and presenter Egill Helgason on the Kiljan programme on RÚV on Wednesday night where he discussed his new book, Reverend Friðrik and His Boys.

The boy in question, now in his eighties, contacted Guðmundur during his writing of the book, which examines Friðrik’s relationship with the boys, his attraction to them, and other material that could be considered sensitive.

“It’s true, I’m entering somewhat unknown territories, at least compared to what I have written before,” Guðmundur admitted, adding that, at times, he found the process of writing the book uncomfortable: “I admit that at one point it was so uncomfortable that I considered abandoning the project.” He decided to press on, however, noting that anything else would have been cowardice.

Collection of personal letters inspired closer examination

Guðmundur stated that he had discovered 15 letters authored by Friðrik in a collection belonging to banker and entrepreneur Eggert Claessen: “What caught my attention was that they all had the appearance of love letters.” This piqued his interest, given that homosexual love was generally not well documented in the late 19th century.

Deciding to delve deeper into the matter, he was allowed access to the archives of Reverend Friðrik, which was under the custody of the YMCA. “The nature of much of the material, his reminiscences, for example, was such that I was shocked. I was so surprised that they had not garnered greater attention – why none of them had become a public discussion; about how he, for instance, talks about his boys, and boys [in general].” Guðmundur noted that the society in which Friðrik lived and worked was unlikely to discuss matters such as these. “All such matters were just absolutely taboo,” Guðmundur added.

“Shocked” by the allegations

After the interview with Guðmundur was aired, YMCA/YWCA issued a press release, stating that the organisations’ leadership was “shocked by allegations of misconduct by their founder,” Reverend Friðrik, and that they were “committed to uncovering the truth.”

The organisations noted that they had placed special emphasis on the importance of child safety in their operations, requiring rigorous background checks and training for all staff. Lastly, they urged anyone who had experienced harassment or violence within their premises to report it, ensuring a conducive environment for addressing such serious concerns.

YMCA/YWCA Iceland is a non-profit and non-governmental (NGO) youth organisation based on the life and teaching of Jesus Christ. It operates five summer camps.

Stígamót spokesperson tells of other victims

Last night, Drífa Snædal, Spokesperson for Stígamót – a centre for survivors of sexual violence that provides free and confidential counselling – was interviewed on the news programme Kastljós. During the interview, Drífa revealed that others had confided in Stígamót’s counsellors because of reverend Friðrik.

“I can attest that more victims, or those related to them, have approached Stígamót,” Drífa observed, adding that she was unable to provide further details regarding the nature of the alleged offences or their timing. “It has kind of touched a nerve,” she remarked. “It’s referred to as ‘the worst kept secret in Icelandic history’ that [reverend Friðrik] abused or assaulted children.”

Drífa added that victims of abuse often seek help at Stígamót later in life. “Far too long, unfortunately, after the offences have occurred … being subjected to such offences as a child can affect the formation of relationships with one’s own children. The formation of normal, good relationships.”

She added that experiences like these can have various effects on others around the victims, for example, their descendants. “Therefore, it is important that people seek help to process difficult experiences as soon as possible.”

Statue on Lækjargata

There is a statue of Reverend Friðrik Friðriksson, flanked by a young boy, on the corner of Amtmannsstígur and Lækjargata in downtown Reykjavík. The statue was sculpted by Sigurjón Ólafsson, who was taught Christian studies as a boy by Friðrik.

As noted on the website of the Reykjavík Art Museum, Sigurjón and Friðrik found themselves stuck in Denmark, during the German occupation of the county in World War II, unable to return to Iceland. Sigurjón crafted a bust of Friðrik in 1943, “before it was too late,” as he said.

“The bust was displayed, along with other portraits by the sculptor, at the Listvinasalur gallery in 1952. Former pupils of the aged clergyman then proposed that an appropriate monument should be erected, for which Sigurjón was the obvious choice.”

A Third of Icelanders Read Daily

icelandic books

A new report from the Icelandic Literature Center has shed new and interesting light on the reading habits of Icelanders. The annual study has been carried out since 2017.

On average, Icelanders listen to 2.4 books per month, with 32% of the nation reading at least once a day.

Read more: Rising Prices of Christmas Books

However, Icelandic readership is undergoing a notable shift, with both the groups of those who never read and those who “binge read” growing.

The study also reported a marked difference between the genders, with women reading significantly more than men. The gender gap also correlates with a gap in education, with the college-educated generally reading more than those with a secondary level of education.

Older people were found to read on average more than younger people, with the youngest group polled, those between 18 and 24, reading the least out of all groups.

In a comparison between the capital region and Iceland’s countryside, no significant difference was recorded.

Some 65% of Icelanders read either exclusively or mostly in Icelandic. This represents a slight change from last year, when the figure sat at 58%. 18% of those polled read equally in Icelandic and another language, with another 14% of residents reading more often in another language than Icelandic. Finally, 3% of those polled read exclusively in another language. The language difference also breaks down along age, with those 34 and younger generally reading in other languages more often than the older groups polled.

Read more: Audiobooks Account for a Third of Books Read in Iceland

Usage of public library resources was also recorded, with women again using the library more often than men. Among the top users of public libraries were households with two or more children.

The report, which can be read in full here, was authored in cooperation with the Reykjavík City Library, Association of Icelandic Publishers, Hagþenkir, the National and University Library of Iceland, Reykjavík UNSECO City of Literature, and the Writers’ Union of Iceland.

Simple Stories for Icelandic Learners – Sequel to Árstíðir Released

Author Karitas Pálsdóttir holding a copy of her recently published book Dagatal.

Author Karítas Hrundar Pálsdóttur has released her second book of short stories for Icelandic learners in Reykjavík. Titled Dagatal – sögur á einföldu máli (Calendar – Stories in Easy Language), the book is intended to help adult Icelandic learners by exposing them to everyday situations in Iceland in a straightforward and engaging way. Dagatal is a follow-up of sorts to Karítas’ first book Árstíðir (Seasons). In addition to being a helpful tool in the language learning process, Karítas says she hopes the book’s stories reflect the values of equality and diversity.

“I felt there was a need for more books in simple language, based on my own language learning experiences and also as a teacher of Icelandic as a second language,” Karítas told Iceland Review. When I started teaching and met more people that were learning Icelandic, I began to see what sort of material was missing.”

Dagatal is not a continuation of Árstíðir per se. While Karítas’ first book provides stories at the A2-B1 language levels according to the European framework, the stories in Dagatal have a slightly broader range of difficulty: A2-B2. The level is determined based on factors including vocabulary, grammar, and content.

Karítas says that while Icelandic language education in Iceland has made great strides in recent years, a lot more could be done. “I feel the development has been good, all things considered, but we’re behind compared to the Nordic countries in terms of teaching the national language to immigrants. Then, of course, it would be good to see more funding from the government and employers because immigrants don’t always have the time or money to learn Icelandic.”

In addition to being a language-learning tool, Karítas worked to ensure that Dagatal reflects the values of diversity and equality. “In the stories, I try to challenge the idea of ‘women’s’ and ‘men’s’ jobs, for example. I depict all kinds of families and relationships, including same-sex partnerships and blended families with stepparents. One of the characters uses the gender-neutral pronoun hán (they). The aim was to show the breadth of society: what Iceland has achieved and where it is headed.”

The publication received a grant from Jafnréttisstjóður Íslands (The Icelandic Equality Fund).

Woman of Letters

Paradise is such an uncompromising word. Through the years – aided by viral headlines, marketing brochures, and proud locals extolling the virtues of their ancestral land – Iceland has acquired a reputation as a utopia. The best place in the world to experience untouched nature, where white-collar criminals get punished for their infractions, and, of course, the best place in the world to be a woman. As with all generalisations, there’s a grain of truth, but it should be taken with a grain of salt. For Eliza Reid, Director of the Iceland Writers Retreat and author of the new book, Secrets of the Sprakkar, gender equality hasn’t been achieved in Iceland. But it’s still a pretty great place to live.

This content is only visible under subscription. Subscribe here or log in.

Continue reading

A Difficult Read

Þóra Hjörleifsdóttir rithöfundur

Every New Year’s Eve for a decade, Þóra Hjörleifsdóttir made the resolution to write a book. It took a while, but in 2019, Magma was published – a harrowing story about how a young woman loses herself within the confines of an emotionally abusive relationship affected by the pornification of society.It was published in February, […]

This content is only visible under subscription. Subscribe here or log in.

Continue reading

Icelanders Opt for Audiobooks During Pandemic

iceland books

The Icelandic book market has suffered as a consequence of the COVID-19 pandemic, RÚV reports. Nevertheless, audiobooks sales are flourishing and industry observers are optimistic about the country’s annual jólabókaflóð, or Christmas book flood.

Per data published by Statistics Iceland this week, print book sales got off to an unusually strong start during the first two months of the year: 20% higher in January and February 2020 than they were during the same time period last year. Not unexpectedly, sales went down significantly during March and April. This has been especially evident with the drop in paperback sales at the Eymundsson bookstore at Keflavík airport.

Although printed book sales have dropped, however, local demand for audiobooks has gone up a great deal. Head of the Association of Icelandic Booksellers Heiðar Ingi Svansson believes that demand for audiobooks will continue to be high in the future.

“We’ve also seen this in all the surrounding markets—audiobook sales and publishing are increasing. But what effect this will have on print publishing is a different question. Audiobook sales are also reaching a new market, new readers, and a new consumer group and, in some ways, are in competition with other online entertainment—podcasts and such.”

Even so, Heiðar Ingi says that the outlook for that quintessentially Icelandic phenomenon, the Christmas Book Flood, is not only good, but even better than it has been in recent years. And print books still dominate this annual tradition.

“What’s also unique about the Icelandic market is that ebooks haven’t gotten the same foothold here as they have elsewhere. They’re hardly measurable here in terms of the overall turnover, while they’re considerable in the Nordics and other countries in Europe that we compare ourselves with.”

In Other Words

A recent report concerning climate change revealed in no uncertain terms what many of us had suspected for some time. It’s not only real, it’s happening quicker than we feared. One of Iceland’s staunchest environmentalists is not an activist or a politician – he’s a writer. Some of Andri Snær Magnason’s most beloved works include […]

This content is only visible under subscription. Subscribe here or log in.

Continue reading