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Place of the Heart

Place of the Heart
Steinunn Sigurðardóttir
English translations
Review Author
Björn Halldórsson

(Hjartastaður, 1995)

Hoping to save her from the clutches of the Reykjavík drug scene, single mother Harpa decides to relocate her daughter Edda Sólveig to the old family homestead on other side of the country. On this 48-hour journey, Harpa’s flustered yet lyrical narrative voice guides us through the oftentimes monstrous landscapes of Iceland’s southern coast as well as into the realms of the past.

With her old friend Heiður acting as a getaway driver – a Thelma to her Louise – Harpa does what she can to reconnect with her daughter, fluctuating between a mother’s tenderness and a parent’s righteous anger. Her mood swings are echoed by Edda Sólveig’s own vitriol, resentful to her mother for being forced to leave the life she knows behind. As the three women move ever closer to the place where Harpa grew up, a reckoning with the past awaits her.

Place of the Heart may have the premise of a traditional road novel but what sets it apart is Steinunn Sigurðardóttir’s jaunty and poetic writing style. Translator Philip Roughton, who was nominated for the Man Booker International Prize for his translations of Jón Kalman, makes sure that the voice is entirely Steinunn’s, refusing to simplify her references and strange quirks of language, choosing instead to provide an elaborate glossary at the end of the book to expand the reading experience.