And the Wind Sees All by Guðmundur Andri Thorsson, #NordicFINDS23

Translated by Andrew Cauthery and Björg Árnadóttir

I come in off the sea and slide along the spit, and soon I will have vanished with the mist. I am the afternoon breeze; I visit at around half past four and an hour later slip away to my dwelling, made of the past: of the grass that stirred a moment ago, the dandelion seeds that have floated to a new place, the folds of Kata’s dress as she cycles down Strandgata on her way to the village hall.

So says the wind as we are introduced to this story cycle set in the village of Valeyri, in northern Iceland. The entire span of the novel takes place during Kata’s two minute cycle ride to the village hall that afternoon. The Valeyri Choir is giving a concert and Kata, who runs the choir wants to get there early to mentally and physically prepare for the evening’s ambitious programme. She’s wearing her blue polka dot dress and cuts a picture as she cycles past all the houses waving to those she spots as she goes, and everyone sees her going by. They’ll all be in or at the concert later.

Meanwhile as she passes, we are taken into the various houses’ inhabitants life stories. They may be thinking ahead to prepare themselves for the concert, but memories from the past also surface and although they may start off as being happy or mellow, there are nearly always skeletons and secrets rattling away, and there are tales of loss and heartbreak; divorce or just being dumped, through ill health, suicide and abuse too. There is a dark underbelly to their lives and some stories illustrate many concerns of recent years to Icelanders, not least the financial crash and loss of jobs.

Village life is definitely not rosy here, yet they are all looking forward to the concert, which is something to be happy about. We’ll never get there, of course, the entire book being a snapshot of the villagers’ minds as Kata goes past.

Thorsson’s writing, beautifully translated, is very calm and often impressionistic, however, it is not without humour, plus the various bombshells casually inserted into the text make the reader pause to evaluate afresh the lives of those they are reading about. The tale of old Svenni, who remembers when his teenage years living on a farm were irrevocably soiled, strikes home in particular. Naturally, they all know each other, and yes, there is gossip, but there is also friendship, and the stories are interlinked through their village relationships. It is slightly claustrophobic in that was of small communities who live in each other’s pockets so to speak, and contrasts with the stories of those who went away to Reykjavik to study or work for a while. As many names crop up in many stories, you’re kept on your toes to keep all the names straight, even more so as most of them are known by diminutives or nicknames ending in ‘i’ – Teddi, Biggi, Gummi, Svenni and more.

I love story cycles and despite the darkness underneath, these stories show a microcosm of Icelandic life, sympathetically told, which may be writ small, but moved me big-time. Highly recommended.

Source: Own copy from the TBR. Peirene flapped paperback original, 2018, 173 pages.

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13 thoughts on “And the Wind Sees All by Guðmundur Andri Thorsson, #NordicFINDS23

    • AnnaBookBel says:

      The concept does work brilliantly well, and I was surprised how much I enjoyed it for some reason.

  1. A Life in Books says:

    I loved this one, too. Although, as you say, there’s a distinctly dark vein running through some of the villagers’ stories, it seemed cheerier than most of the Peirenes I’ve read.

    • AnnaBookBel says:

      Hmmm! I am haunted by memories of Peirene’s very first book which was a dark shocker – Beside the Sea by Veronique Olmi. This one is definitely as up as it is down. But they do have cheery ones… Marzahn, Mon Amour?

      • A Life in Books says:

        I’ve not read that one. Empress of Cake, The Pear Field and Soviet Milk are my darkest ones, How could I have forgotten Mazhann? Lovely celebration of friendship. Thank you for reminding me of it!

    • AnnaBookBel says:

      I’ve not read one I didn’t enjoy or at least appreciate yet. They are good at unearthing these modern gems from Europe and beyond.

  2. kimbofo says:

    Oh, I loved this one which I read at the tail end of last year. I thought the structure of it was very cleverly done and I loved the recurring motif of the polka dot dress.

  3. thecontentreader says:

    What an unusual concept, but it sounds really intriguing. Like you are passing by someones house and sometimes you are wondering what is happening behind the doors. Seems like poetic language as well.

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