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Found in translation

THE SAGA HERITAGE / When Iceland was a guest country at the book fair in Frankfurt in 2011, it was again remembered that Icelanders are the best at composing stories,
not on making money.

This article is machine translated by Google from Norwegian

There is a tourist bus outside Vigdís Finnbogadóttir's house in Reykjavík. A bunch of Nordic philologists and translators get on the bus, while I remain in the parking lot. A tug of bad conscience as the bus drives out onto the ring road. The camp school anxiety hit me, so I stay where everything is within walking distance, in the safe city of Reykjavík. I hike down to the wetlands of Vassmyra and the duck-like, beautiful Nordic house. The house of Alvar Aalto, the house of all Northerners. Soon, a world-class writer will be on stage in the auditorium here talking about going and going, and about books that Go. I flew to Sagalandet, to a seminar on the new translation of the Icelandic sagas. But the literary star I get to experience live is Tomas Espedal.

The bill

So – if I talk too much about being Norwegian, especially here in Iceland, I sometimes end up taking the bill. The café bill, that is, not the big bill, the one that matters: the sweating and freezing of climate chaos. The cafe bill is easy to take. And in Iceland, Norway is known as a giant. I myself know it as contributing to a redistribution of resources. I kind of try to recreate the world economy and distribute the goods better. For money take more they give. The fact that capitalism has had an impact on the Icelandic landscape is something that the Icelandic art activist and Icelander Andri Snær Magnason has thematized in his much translated and sold-out authorship. The Icelandic politicians are pessimistic, he said. Icelandic politicians have sold their pure nature for dollars. Andri was then concerned about the government's courtship, especially to the United States and China. They promised almost free electricity if the foreigners built smelters on Icelandic soil. American Alcoa was among those who came. The vast Kárahnjukar high mountain area was dammed. Here, before the dam, there were important wetlands and marshes. Red-listed geese nestled here. The Kárahnjukar case is a lost cause. But Andri gets new things to hang on to and writes about: Now it is tourism that provides the basis for a money-vs. nature issues.

Tourism rose, blowing up like an almost unreal bubble, and many thought the upswing would continue. Several major hotel projects were started. New night spots, guide companies and shops emerged, for in 2018 almost two and a half million tourists visited Iceland. 30 percent of the country's revenue came from tourism, most visitors came from North America. Many traveled with the Icelandic low-cost airline WOW air. This spring WOW air went bankrupt, and tourism is now down in a small wave valley. The strange thing was that no one talked about this decline. It is only accidentally discovered that the beautiful cheese shop in Skólavörðustígur closes. That lovely Bergsson Mathús by Tjörnin has a patch Lokað at the door. There is little talk and writing about the new, low-key recession. It reminds me a bit of the attitude just before the financial crisis in 2008. Many people probably thought that the economy was a little too good to be true, and that something was up. But people put their latest Bose silencing headsets over their ears and continued to live as they had done. For Icelanders, such as Norwegians, would prefer that the comfortable lifestyle be maintained.


While Tomas Espedal is on the scene, a news item appears on The Reykjavík Grapevine's website: An American airline buys WOW air. The first transatlantic routes can start again from October. And the October party is all underway. It starts right now, with music from right outside the house walls. Reykjavík turns up the volume, and a heavy, rhythmic and sexy bass causes the walls of the hall to throb. A shout from Reykjavík: Yes, yes, the upswing should continue! It bubbles up from the hot tubs! The boom is unstoppable. And it's really the October party I hear, September 7th. The director of the Nordic House, Sabina, apologizes to the music to his Norwegian guest Espedal. The Oktoberfest music festival should be in October. But the weather has changed. So, the climate has changed. There was too much wind and humidity in October to have this outdoor music festival then. Did Espedal sleep in the noise last night? Espedal shakes his head. No, he put on headphones. And it could have been the wind shaking in the walls.

When the literary October festival takes place in Frankfurt, where is Espedal? Did he, who started out as a narrow writer but now sold to 24 countries, take part in the Frankfurt party? Are there more languages ​​to translate his books into? And what exactly does it take for a work to become the kind that gets new translations? There are new translations of the Icelandic sagas that are discussed in the charter bus on the way to Reykholt. When Iceland was the main land in Frankfurt, they presented a lavish and probably very good new German translation. We who live outside Iceland get the pleasure of new, maybe more modern, maybe slightly improved versions of the sagas. For this translation, the dilemmas were particularly big around names. Should one reveal to readers that Einar Tambar quake means Einar Dissevom? Or should one take the life lie of a Norwegian reader and reveal that the Viking whose Icelandic nickname I would not even say is actually called Hestkuk? If you take the life lie of an average person, you immediately take the happiness out of it. It says in Vildanden. Or The wild spirit, as a newer version of the drama was called.

While foreigners must deal with constantly new translations of Ibsen, most Norwegians must fight through the same, old and original Ibsenic language. Because one does not rock at Ibsen, not in Norway. Similarly, it became a trial when Halldór Laxness offered a new version of one of the Icelandic sagas. Espedal tells us about Jon Fosse's translator who was so engaged that he traveled to Norway to study crushes and learn the difference between a mountain and a crush and a pile. This has Norway standing on when our doom comes. The mounds, the crags, the mountains. We also have electricity, in buckets and buckets.

It's been a hundred years since the first plane took off from Iceland. President Guðni says that we must not have a comb of air. Rather, we must be constructive. Try to get the first electric plane on the wings. Now WOW is on the wings again. Maybe they can use their new buoyancy to develop electric aircraft? I wonder if it seems that most Icelanders receive tourism with relatively little skepticism. Of course, there are honorable exceptions. Just two weeks earlier, for example, there was a kind of climate march up to the edge of a glacier that is about to melt. The march was organized by Andri Snær Magnason. They went to the edge of the glacier and set up a plaque. Soon the glacier is gone. Apparently, the majority of the participants on this free bus tour were tourists.


The seminar bus with the new translators has arrived at Reykholt now. A priest poured wine into the glasses of the philologists while talking enthusiastically and captivatingly about Snorri Sturlason. The legacy inherits Iceland in exemplary form. Messrs Dissevom and Hestkuk will now be able to live on in the consciousness of the younger generations as well. The new translations are out, all over the Nordic region. The new Norwegian edition is supposed to be freer, the Danish more youthful and the Swedish better. But regardless of language, the sagas will always be under-narrated dramas with irony and sarcasm, sex and passion and lots of walking and traveling on horseback. Some, like the saga about Ravnkjell Frøysgode, will continue to be almost perfect, tight mini novels. Snorre's king sagas will surely remain a perpetual source of discussion and disagreement around the question of how much is empirical fact and how much is poetry.

Together, all the sagas will also always be a boon of human restlessness and the urge to travel and experience. For when it comes down to it, man's urge to move, and to create mental movements, is what the literature is based on. It may also be the core of the man-made sides of greenhouse gas emissions.

And on stage, Tomas Espedal must tell of his urge to leave. Why do you want to go, Tomas Espedal. He says something about going on the continent and seeing the new cities, those that are not on a map. He wants to see, hear and experience the refugee camps. The people moving north, opposite of the migratory birds: away from the warm and up to the temperate, spacious landscapes.

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