On Kristín Steinsdóttir’s á eigin vegum (Your Own Way- Eigene Wege) – Icelandic Literature

a eigin vegum

This time I’ll tell you the bad news right away. Kristín Steinsdóttir’s novel has not been translated into English. I don’t read Icelandic, so I picked the German translation called Eigene Wege. I’ve always meant to read more Icelandic books and have a small pile on my bookshelves. A lot of what interests me however is only available in German. A eigin vegum/Eigene Wege/Your Own Way was Kristín Steinsdóttir’s first novel for grown-ups. She has won many prizes for her children’s literature.

Siegtrud is an elderly widow, born far away from Reykjavík, but later, she and her husband move to the city, where she’s still living at the beginning of the book. Siegtrud isn’t well off and although she’s at least 70 years old, she still has to work. She delivers the morning papers. Every day she gets up at five, works for two hours and then she returns home and goes to bed with her cats for another couple of hours. In the afternoon she finds amusements that are for free. She drinks a cup of champagne during the opening of an exhibition. She attends funeral services of total strangers, and joins the families for something to eat afterwards. She loves the singing in the church just as much as the free food.

Siegtrud’s family history is a bit of a mystery. She never met her mother who died in childbed and doesn’t know anything about her father. She owns a suitcase, in which she carries all of her treasures: the picture of her grandfather, a book about France, a harp and her mother’s French woollen scarf. Her foster-mother told her that her grandfather was French. Ever since Siegtrud was a little girl she dreamt of going to France. She wanted to see Paris and the country of her ancestors for herself.

The book moves back and forth in time. It tells us of Siegtrud’s life in Reykjavík and of her early childhood, her teenage years, her marriage. The story is as much the story of a woman, as it is the story of a country that underwent a lot of changes.

Siegtrud has had a hard live. She was born with a crippled hand, she had no parents, and not a lot of material possessions. She even lost the love of her life and her only child. Despite of this, it’s a cheerful book because Siegtrud is a character who knows how to enjoy life, and even at 70, she  thinks it’s not too late for a new beginning or an adventure.

I loved that Kristín Steinsdóttir chose a character who is neither wealthy, nor famous, nor young, but has a rich inner life and is able to enjoy the smallest things.

Thanks to Sigrun for letting me know in the comments that this book was nominated for the Nordic Council Literature Prize in 2008. It was published in 2006 in Iceland, the German translation is from 2009.