The Last Book
By William Heinesen
Translated from the Danish by Tiina Nunnally
Fjord Press, Seattle, 1987
The road out to Gray Skull Wharf, where everything ends, is a long one. With many twists and turns and cul-de-sacs, it passes through a thousand-year-old city.
We are in no hurry, and on this belated journey we will not take things like chronology and causality too seriously either. We feel just like children playing in the twilight, who are reluctant to go home to bed as long as there is still light in the sky and the beautiful day is not entirely over. And the old boatman, sitting in his ferry and waiting at the end of the world, is a wise man, after all. He knows the whims and caprices of the human heart, and its untimely yearning for the unreachable. He will surely grant us a reprieve for a little longer. You'll see– he has probably lit his pipe and is sitting there in his gray wolfskin enjoying himself as he gazes out over the deep with experienced seaman's eyes, to where the beginning and the end meet and shake hands with each other, as the darkness falls.
William Heinesen was born at the turn of the 20th century in Tórshavn in the Faroes, a group of islands in the North Atlantic between Scotland and Iceland. He was considered the greatest of the Faroese writers and although he wrote in Danish, his work revolves around everyday life in the Faroes. This collection of stories, loosely connected by the thread spun in the preface reprinted above, was written with the intention of being his final work. Tiina Nunally's elegant translation is always concise and poetic.
Heinesen's intention was to have one last go at telling the stories of the people of his life, they are tales from a time that is long gone, an old man's look at those memories of things that have stayed with him over a long life. The stories are simultaneously magical and realistic. Love unrequited, passions leading to ruination, life in a small town in all its facets- with all its joys and heartbreaks.
These are simple stories, told in a straightforward manner. A travelogue, if you will, to the ends of the earth and the center of the human heart.