Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Tales from the Faroes

Faroese Short Stories
Twenty-five stories by nine Faroese authors,
Translated and introduced by Hedin Brønner
Twayne Publishers, New York, 1972

My "world trip" last summer found me browsing through a book/ antique store in the old mining town of Galena, Illinois. There, sitting side by side, I discovered a copy of Víga-Glúm's Saga and this book. I had previously run across many references to the Faroese writer William Heinesen, where he was often compared favorably with Halldór Laxness. This book presents several stories by Heinesen along with work by seven other Faroese writers, most of whom were born within a ten year span around the turn of the 20th century. In a sparsely populated and isolated country (less than 30,000 at the time) it is only natural that there would be stylistic similarities between authors. Some of the stories were written in Danish, some in Faroese, I'm obviously not the person to make a judgement on this, I can only read the English translations anyway.

Mads Andrias Winther contributed three very short tales about life's injustice and the narrow-mindedness of the common folk. Sverri Patturson wrote of a clever fisherman who managed to catch a shark and a persistent farmer's battle against a couple of crafty ravens. Hans Dahlsgaard's Nelson's Last Stand is the story of a feeble-minded villager who was not a dim as he seemed.

Heinesen has six stories here, his is the most polished writing. His magical The Celestial Journey is simply wonderful in the way it goes from realism to fantasy and back again. His story The Night of the Storm touches upon a Sapphic relationship between two reclusive elderly women whose life together is torn apart: first by a storm and then by the "good intentions" of the village women. Absolutely devastating.

Heðin Brú has seven stories. He might be the best pure story-teller of the lot, his tales are alternately funny and wistful. His charming story The White Church, told from the point of view of a five year old, is one of the finest Christmas stories I have ever read. It would appeal to children and adults alike. The Long Darkness is a harrowing account, also told from a child's point of view, of the progressive blindness of one of the villagers.

There are four more authors, each of them tell slice-of-life stories which, like the others, reveal life in the Faroes, timeless and plain, but rich in the human experience.

This is a wonderful and touching book. The stories transported me to another place and time with an elegant and unsentimental simplicity. Although it is not common there are no shortage of reasonably priced copies at Amazon or Abe's books. I'll be featuring reviews of three Faroese novels in the coming weeks including Heinesen's The Lost Musicians and Jørgen-Frantz Jacobsen's Barbara.

By Professor Batty


Blogger Darien Fisher-Duke said...

I will follow you on your Faroese journey, starting with this book! I have a friend who went there--and I would love to go. Are the Faroes on the Weaver/Batty list of places to go?

Blogger Professor Batty said...

The other book is The Old Man and His Sons by Heðin Brú, I would think that with your "Librarian Ways"
you could probably find all three, I think Old Man is in print.

I don't know about visiting the Faroes, the weather there is worse than Iceland and it would be hard to get enough time to do it right.

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