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Reply to a Letter from Helga by [Birgisson, Bergsveinn]
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Reply to a Letter from Helga Kindle Edition

3.1 out of 5 stars 15 customer reviews

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Length: 143 pages Word Wise: Enabled Enhanced Typesetting: Enabled
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Product Description

About the Author

Bergsveinn Birgisson holds a doctorate in Norse philology and has an expansive background in folklore, oral histories, and lyrical poetry. A true academic at heart, Birgisson has spent his life studying language and how it represents the truth of the human condition. He currently resides in Bergen, Norway, where he continues to write classical tales of love and masters new languages. Reply to a Letter from Helga is Birgisson’s third novel, and his first to be translated into English.

Philip Roughton is an award-winning translator of modern Icelandic literature and a scholar of Old Norse and medieval literature. He holds a PhD in comparative literature from the University of Colorado, Boulder, and has taught literature there and at the University of Iceland. His translations include novelsby the Nobel Prize–winning author Halldór Laxness, among others. He currently resides in Reykjavík, Iceland.

Product details

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 5428 KB
  • Print Length: 143 pages
  • Publisher: AmazonCrossing (29 Jan. 2013)
  • Sold by: Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B008L56CMQ
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
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  • Word Wise: Enabled
  • Enhanced Typesetting: Enabled
  • Average Customer Review: 3.1 out of 5 stars 15 customer reviews
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #376,216 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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3.1 out of 5 stars
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This is the simple story of Bjarni, a farmer who loves his neighbour's wife yet when given the opportunity to run away with her to Reykjavik and a new life together, chooses instead to stay behind and live out a traditional rural existence. His passionate affair with Helga takes place during the Second World War, when (a friendly) occupation first by the British and then by the Americans changed traditional Icelandic life forever due to the money and modern culture it brought to the country. Bjarni is besotted with Helga, but she may be more besotted with the prospect of escape to the bright lights, and therefore represents the pull of modernity, while Bjarni's hold on his country's traditional culture in the end remains firm, although at immense cost to his personal happiness. Little more than a novella - which would be slimmer still were it not for Kjartan Hallur's atmospheric illustrations - it is chock full of references to the Icelandic sagas and more recent poetry and hymns which are the heartsprings of Icelandic culture, and also of the dehumanisation brought about by the rapid growth of Greater Reykjavík, fed by rural depopulation and farm abandonment. For this reader, Bjarni's reply, finally, on his deathbed, to Helga's letter imploring him to join her in Reykjavik, is no more and no less than a paean to a lost Icelandic rural paradise, hard paradise that it was. It's beautifully written, and worth reading if only for the wonderful chapter about the corpse of an old lady for whom Bjarni made a difficult winter journey to bring to the church for burial.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Bjarni and Helga are having a passionate affair,when the former
receives a letter from Helga asking him to leave his farm and wife,
to go with her to live in the city.
He does not reply to this letter until very many years later,at the
end of his life.
Beautifully written with acute observation,this novella (123 pages long),
is not only an expression of love and regret,but a passionate evocation of
one man's atavistic attachment to the land.
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Format: Paperback Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
I personally found this to be quite a pleasant novel to read. Its not long, in fact it can be read in a day on a journey or stuck at an airport and its also not overbearing so it is actually perfect for those occasions rather than having a book you have to read and read again or check an index for names and places this is a book I found easy to get into and easy to read.

The whole setting is rather bleak as its set in rural Iceland amongst a farming community but oddly enough, I had just seen a documentary on Iceland just before reading this book so I could picture the setting fairly well, I suppose it reminded me a little of images of northern Scotland. The book is set in chapters where the main character is almost speaking to Helga describing his feelings and his reasons why he did or did not do certain things. In his old age now its very much him thinking of the past sometimes with regrets sometimes without. The book is rather sexually graphic and at times these parts can get a bit repetitive. I did like how the whole book is written in a very matter of fact kind of way for example how he describes his wifes family as being a bit stingy not wasting anything. (The bit about them possibly mistakenly using urine in bread made me cringe)

All in all this is a good book to read especially one to take with you for the summer or on another holiday. There is nothing too complex to wear you down reading (complex names or places for example other than the characters!)
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Format: Paperback Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Nordic literature isn't always to everyone in the UK's taste - simply because some of the translations aren't true to the original text and much is lost. In the case of this book, the translation 'feels' accurate and the book IS beautifully written - it is evocative, almost poetic in places - but the book itself I just struggled so much to enjoy at first. It's the story of unrequited love and the longing for the lost love of someone from many years ago - in this case an Icelandic sheep farmer pining for Helga, his long lost love, who's now moved on and is married to his neighbour. It's an incredibly intrusive-feeling book - maybe why I struggled - full of private thoughts - to a point it almost feels uncomfortable to read it. I found Bjarni (said farmer) a hard person to like. Unrequited love and seeing someone you still love having moved on IS painful as all hell, but bless Bjarni, he does himself no favours. He's also extremely crude - now I swear like a stevedore but even I blushed at some of Bjarni's descriptions of how he sees sex (I'm glad Helga got away from him tbh!) - really, "graphic" doesn't cover it!

The wider story of course is iceland during WW2 (when Bjarni and Helga got together) and so one gets to see Iceland modernise and unfold before one's eyes as a suddenly modernising and growing country, in stark contrast to Bjarni's way of life in the rural areas. I really enjoyed this and the constant referencing of Norse legend and history. It builds a lovely, evocative and alive Iceland - Iceland is a character in this book as much as Bjarni and Helga are.

A lovely novella with lovely illustrations too - they remind me of a Finlandsvensk artist I enjoy, so they were a nice addition - not really sure why a novella aimed at adults even has illustrations, but hey ho, they're quite nice in their own way.
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