Arctic Chill by Arnaldur Indridason

Arctic Chill by Arnaldur Indridason is the third book in the Reykjavik11807693 mysteries I’ve read and proves what a consistently strong series and masterful writer Indridason is.

The book opens with the city in the grip of a bleak and icy winter. Winds are blowing from the north, ravaging the landscape and making outdoors decidedly unpleasant. When a young Thai immigrant is found dead not far from his home, his little body stuck to the ice and anorak torn, Detective Inspector Erlendur and his team suspect a racially motivated crime.

As they delve further into the child’s tragic death, and get to know the nuclear family of which he was a part, they come to understand what it means to leave one’s motherland, family and culture to start afresh on the other side of the world and the commitment and desire that drives such a relocation. They also unleash a nest of bigots who make the immigrants’ life a misery and who rail against what they perceive as a threat to Icelandic traditions and culture and language.

Is the desire to maintain a status quo motivation for murder? The closer Erlendur gets the truth, the more tragic this tale of xenophobia, desperation to preserve Icelandic history and culture becomes.

This novel resonated so strongly with the current political and cultural climate, not just in Australia, but in many other countries around the world who have experienced waves of immigration and those who harden their hearts and close their minds to both the plight of refugees and Otherness and the positive experiences that can be had by welcoming them.

Erlendur and his team are dogged and loyal; the questions they ask of suspects and themselves are real and probing and while the book is about a crime, perhaps the greatest is the lack of humanity we show to those with whom, in the end, we have far more in common with than any differences.

Another great, thought-provoking read.

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My Grandmother Asked My to Tell You She’s Sorry by Fredrik Backman

After reading and loving A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman, I really didn’t want to leave his voice or the world he creates with his haunting words. So, I picked up My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry (or that she Sends Her Regards and Apologies, depending which edition you get), unable to resist the quirky title, and was delighted I did.

24469230In this novel, Backman introduces the reader to the almost preternaturally bright, precocious and quite lovable seven year-old Elsa. Bullied at school, aware of her differences and trying to pretend her clever and busy mother’s pregnancy to her new and perfect boyfriend aren’t bothering her, Elsa is a child that arouses passionate responses in those who meet her – and, if she doesn’t right away, she ensures they soon will. The reason for her quirkiness, intelligence and strong awareness of what constitutes social justice becomes apparent almost immediately. Not only is Elsa equipped with a great mind and wonderful imagination, both are fiercely and lovingly cultivated by her outrageous and smart grandmother.

Every night, Elsa’s beloved and feisty grandmother, takes her to the Land of Almost-Awake, a land that she and Elsa have nurtured and developed, populating it with a history, other places and peoples for as many years as Elsa can remember.

When Elsa’s grandmother dies (this is not a spoiler, it is in the blurb), she entrusts to Elsa an important quest. In order to fulfil this quest, Elsa must not only face the monsters that have terrified her for years, but even vanquish them. Like the heroes in the Land of Almost-Awake, she must make friends of strangers, allies of enemies and reach out to those who need her more than the other way around. Most importantly, she must find the courage she sometimes lacks and be braver than she’s ever been before – lives depend upon it. In doing so, she learns about herself, her mother and her grandmother; history and the present melding in unexpected, dangerous and delightful ways.

Drawing on reality as much as imagination, Elsa’s quest and the people she encounters and dreams, also explore the eternal questions of life and death, conformity versus uniqueness and why we wear masks – to both hide and protect our true selves. The novel also explores the complexity of families and why and how sometimes the family we choose is made of stronger bonds than those we are born into.

This a beautiful novel that draws on invented and well-known tales (Harry Potter features strongly) and has a cast of original and compelling characters. Inhaled this book – I think anyone who loved Backman’s others will as well.

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