Broken Hearted Melody
Faroese stamps illustrating scenes from The Lost Musicians
The Lost Musicians
A novel by William Heinesen
Translated by Erik J. Friis
Twayne Publishers, New York, 1971
William Heinesen, arguably the foremost Faroese author, is noted for his keenly observed literary sketches of everyday life in the Faroes, an isolated group of islands between Scotland and Iceland. The Lost Musicians intrigued me, I had seen it favorably compared to Halldór Laxness' majestic The Fish Can Sing on more than one occasion while scouring the internet over the last few years. I found this to be a quite different sort of book. Both stories take place in a very small geographical area on an island in the North Atlantic, but Fish is told from the very personal point of view of a boy slowly growing into manhood, while The Lost Musicians has a much broader scope- its ensemble cast of misfits, wastrels and drunkards careen from one misadventure to another, gathering steam toward a wild climax and then slowing to a poignant conclusion. While not a happy ending, it is not one without hope.
Heinesen is a concise writer, and seems to perfectly capture the low humor and salty vernacular of the Faroese underclass (there is a lot of drinking!) He offers no judgments on the actions of these hapless musicians, nor does he bestow them an elevated status. If Heinesen has any underlying theme in the book, it may simply be a faith in the validity of ordinary existence triumphs over pretension and fatalism. Definitely worth a look to anyone who is open to the idea of exploring this little-known culture.