Eir, Oddny. “Land of Love and Ruins”, translated by Philip Roughton, Restless Books, 2016.
I read a great deal and as a reviewer I have an obligation to myself and to writers who send me books to look at everything I get. However, I have never thought about reading literature from Iceland nor have I, in fact, ever thought about Iceland having a unique literature. I learned that I was wrong as I read Oddny Eir’s “Land of Love and Ruins”.
Eir’s book is a profoundly philosophical look at being human in today’s world. She wrote this as a diary about finding a place where she can belong and feel at peace. In doing so, she brings rural Iceland and Western philosophy together. This is a universal idea and so many of us have done exactly the same kind of quest but this is the first that I have read from an Icelandic author and it is amazing and quite beautiful.
Oddný Eir won the Icelandic Women’s Literature Prize in 2012 for this her the debut novel. Our heroine sets out on the universal journey to find her place in the world. It was her longing to be able to settle down that pushed her to take journeys within the greater journey and to find answers not just for her but for everyone. Her journeys are physical and mental and cut through time and space. She finds herself looking at different ways of living, experiencing and thinking about different kinds of relationships and she considers the ties she has to her family, to the land she lives on and the nation she is a member of all the while trying to find some kind of balance between “companionship and independence, movement and stability, past, present, and future”.
I do not remember reading anything quite like this before. Eir beautifully brings together autobiography and fiction as well as fantasy and philosophical inquiry. She deals with many of the questions that all of us face and while there are not always answers to be found, there remains a great deal to think about. For me, this is the purpose of literature and in that our author has succeeded. After all, all of us really want to find that place from which we can function at our best.