The immigrant Icelanders are so obscure you could easily go your entire life in this country and never hear a word about them. [...] Nobody’s heard of New Iceland. Was it because we were so wretchedly oppressed? Hardly. If anything, the opposite was true. We assimilated more quickly than most, with our fair features and devotion to literacy, our ability to persist through hardship etched in our genes. No, the answer is simple enough, it seems to me: there were too few of us to matter. All said, only fifteen thousand Icelanders emigrated at the tail end of the ninteenth century — a droplet lost among the million-size waves of immigrants who flooded North America’s shores. It’s no wonder we never made it into my college history books.
The Tricking of Freya is a wonderful debut novel by Christina Sunley. Taking place in Canada and Iceland, the book is a love letter of sorts to her Icelandic ancestors and heritage.
Freya is the granddaughter of Olafur, one of Iceland’s greatest poets but who had, much to the chagrin of Icelanders, emigrated to Canada. Though she spends her first 7 years in America, Freya learns first hand about her Icelandic heritage when she and her mother travel to Gimli, just outside of Winnipeg. There she meets her grandmother for the first time and her aunt, nicknamed Birdie. Birdie discovers that Freya’s mother has not been teaching her Icelandic, and she immediately begins that task. Freya takes to Birdie and her Icelandic heritage very well, but also slowly learns that Birdie can be unstable.
When Freya gets the opportunity to go to Iceland, she becomes even more aware of her heritage. One of the most interesting facets of Icelandic life is their love of books:
Cousin, that house was the most marvelous thing I had ever seen. Not from the outside. From the outside was a three-story cement facade painted pastel green. But the inside! Books lined every wall of every room. Books climbed up stairs and rested on landings. Books stretched over the arches of doorways like bridges, stood guard over mantels. Old leather-bound volumes with gilt titles gleamed in glass cabinets. Books in the basement, books in the attic. Four stories of books. How many, I wanted to know.
“Nine thousand, six hundred,” Ulfur answered. ”Approximately. The largest private book collection in Iceland.”
This book’s themes include history, mythology, psychology, and the significance of one’s family roots and heritage. I enjoyed it very much and will look forward to Christina Sunley’s next book.
2009, 342 pp.
[Disclaimer: This copy was obtained from the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program.]