The saga of Gisli is one of those I’ve taught most often over the years–it’s short, it’s got a (for modern readers) relatively unified narrative for a saga, and it’s a murder mystery, giving us at least one easy point-of-entry for those less used to discussing literature.

There are at least a couple recent (ie, last few decades) translations that are worth picking up (stay away from the free translations online, unless you really can’t find anything else–those come from well-intentioned translators of 100+ years ago who felt like the Norse material would gain better acceptance in the greater Western canon if it sounded “old-timey”–which is why the Thor comic books, and now the movies, are full of all the faux-Shakespearian crap), but to get your appetite whetted I present this short documentary about the location of the saga from my friend Emily Lethbridge, whose Icelandic saga travelogue I believe I’ve blogged about before (probably way back in 2011 or 2012):

Memories Of Old Awake from Cambridge University on Vimeo.

Also check out the Icelandic Saga Map project that Emily is working on.

I recommend watching this documentary, then reading the saga (and yes, some bits will be more difficult to get through than others–there is some overlap in terms of what contemporary readers find intriguing and what Medieval Icelanders found intriguing in their stories, but there are some gaps as well), then watching the kinda cheesy but still pretty awesome 70s movie about the saga–the soundtrack and action scenes leave something to be desired, but from my limited understanding (as a literary scholar rather than an archaeologist), this movie is the closest representation of what it would have looked like at the time compared to any other Viking movie I’ve seen–fill your imagination with this, rather than the usual Hollywood crud. But OK, you can choose a more varied soundtrack if you want…

Also, if someone knows a way to get an english subbed copy of this movie in the US, please let me know–the library copy at my current department is almost as bad as this youtube version, and I’d rather point people towards copies they can buy rather than youtube. :/


I love it when “literary” authors dip their toes (or better yet, dive in head-first) into the world of more fantastic or science-fictional literature. Sure, they sometimes get accused of “slumming” (as Ursula LeGuin apparently suggested could be the case, depending how how Ishiguro framed his new novel–from what I hear, she has retracted this comment), but that’s more a matter of how they represent their relationship to genre fiction–as for me, I just love seeing someone do something new with this particular toolbox. Those unused to the genre may still fall prey to tired iterations of the formulae of fantasy and sci-fi, but they at least tend to do it in very different ways than the usual “ghetto” authors (and sorry for still using that ghetto metaphor–I’m starting to feel a bit uncomfortable with it, but I haven’t hit on another yet), and at best these authors are a bit more conscious than their genre-peers of the particular potential of the fantastic or science-fictional mode for their topic.

WP_20151026_15_53_44_ProGiven all this, I was excited to run across Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Buried Giant. While I hadn’t yet read anything by him, I knew that he is most famous for his novel The Remains of the Day (maybe more famous as the movie) and thought it would be interesting to see what he was doing in this corner of the literary world. Apparently a couple of his other novels have edged towards the fantastic, one being read as magical realism by many critics and another as science fiction–more that I have to read now…

With The Buried Giant Ishiguro puts the fantastic, as well as the sense of the primordial and mythic that we associate with Arthurian and Anglo-Saxon England, to work in an exploration of memory and forgetting (two very intimately intertwined phenomena, as is often pointed out in memory studies within the humanities) at the level of both larger (ethnic) communities and individual relationships. The scene of the novel is post-Arthurian England, the land in a state of mysterious forgetfulness in the decades following the death of the King of the Britons, ogres roaming the countryside (though as a matter of course, rather than a special state of affairs), a giant buried beneath the landscape (how literal is this to be taken? though most of the other supernatural elements seem to clearly play out just as much at the literal as at the symbolic level), a dragon sleeping in the mountains, whose role in the story I will let you discover for yourself. We start following the story through the eyes of the aged pair Axl and Beatrice, and their journey to find their son is the central quest, even if it gets caught up in a much grander quest. Stereotypical fantasy “grandness” is avoided, however–there is plenty of blood, but you don’t leave a fight scene feeling like Conan the Barbarian, covered in blood and glorying in it. Certainly for duels (there are at least a couple) you leave feeling that a real person has died, not a cardboard enemy, and even the monster fights have a satisfying anti-climatic quality, a quickness in the moment of death that actually leaves more room for death in the narrative than a hack-n-slash would. Sword and Sorcery fans may find the pace unbearable, as the narrative follows a different rhythm than stories built around extended knots of action (well, there is action here, but it hardly holds itself in focus in the way many fantasy readers would want), but the novel builds its own tension as the couple’s journey towards memory and mortality and the reader’s increasing awareness of the forgotten backstory to this cursed world build chapter after chapter. In many ways it is a gentle and melancholy narrative, but by the end it is also full of terror (well, resigned terror, or horror is maybe the better word here…)–with a glimpse of hope too, maybe, but I’m not sure we can leave the final chapter in the most optimistic of moods. But yeah, spoiler alert–definitely got teary with the final chapter (but hey, I’m a sap).


A very quick sketch from the half-remembered setting of one of the climatic scenes… May need to redo this one, haha…

I don’t want to get more specific because I personally really enjoyed piecing together the world and narrative as I inched along, but feel free to check out Neil Gaiman’s review for more details. Neil doesn’t sound especially enthusiastic about the novel here, but I would still recommend checking it out, as long as you can handle fantasy that doesn’t feel like your usual pulp epic. As someone who has done a bit of work in Cultural Memory studies, I enjoyed the treatment of memory from various angles, and especially the way the “novum” (if we can apply Suvin’s term to fantasy) allowed us to stage a particular ethical conundrum in a very concrete way–something which would have been lost had Ishiguro written this in post-WWII France or elsewhere, as I understand he considered doing. Be sure to check out Neil Gaiman’s interview with Ishiguro, as the two of them get into a very productive and engaging discussion of the issue of genre when it comes to “literary” fiction and fantasy (just keep in mind that it is an informal interview, not a rigorous dissertation). For more background to Ishiguro’s writing of the novel, check out this review. For a more negative review, there is this one. I can sympathize with some this reviewer’s points, but I think I’m just more willing to take it for what it is (and more interested in fantasy of any sort, and with no real horizon of expectations for Kazuo Ishiguro’s work)–I say enjoy the fable-like quality, the awkwardness of doddering old folks as protagonists, the “Monty Python but not funny” pitifulness of the knight who gets caught up in it all (or rather, always has been caught up in it all)–but you know, if you just can’t enjoy those things, that’s fair. I enjoyed it, but don’t know yet whether this will be a “reread until I die” book or not (to be fair, there are a lot of books on that list–and many that aren’t on that list even if they are better than most of those on the list…). And again, I am a particular fan of quirky or unusual entries into the corpus of fantastic literature, so I’m a bit predisposed to find this book engaging.

CG Olsen:

So excited that Tiff’s series will be published !! I haven’t read drafts for this one, but recently finished a first critique of another novel of hers, and I was really blown away by it–one of those books where you find yourself saying “WHAT!!” way too loud in a crowded cafe over and over again during the final chapter. I’ve also really enjoyed a short story of hers that I blogged about a couple years ago. She’s is an awesome talent (and also super cool editor at Asymptote magazine of translated lit, South East Asian division), so you should all be super excited too!!!

Originally posted on Tiffany Tsao:

I’ve been sitting (more like squirming) on a piece of news for a long while that I haven’t been able to make public until a few days ago. But at long last, I can share it with the world. My novel The Oddfits has found a publisher – AmazonCrossing, the imprint of Amazon Publishing that deals with translated literature and world literature. They made the announcement at the Frankfurt Book Fair on Thursday! The Oddfits will be coming out in February 2016 in both print and e-book format. I can’t believe it even now, even after several months of knowing. It seems too suspiciously good to be true.

Longtime readers of this blog know that seeing The Oddfits through to this point has been a journey filled with ups and downs. First of all, the novel took me several years to write (though to be fair, I worked at it…

View original 261 more words


This Southeast Asian Steampunk project is still trying to gather support, so contribute while you can! I’ve never really read much steampunk before, but given the colonial/imperial heritage that steampunk as a genre tends to look back to (sometimes critically, sometimes naively) a Southeast Asian compilation ought to be pretty dang interesting. I think I’ll find it an interesting counterpoint to the book of Oscarian (Swedish equivalent of Victorian) Steampunk that I have been working through.

And since Inktober starts today, here is a very hasty sketch of a steampunk airship looking down on the sea as dawn breaks beyond the curve of the earth. OK, sounds nice, but when I say hasty, I mean hasty. Possibly a better quality, more legible version to come one of these days…

Steampunk Airship Sketch (2)

Since I cover a bit of both Scandinavian Studies and book reviews in this blog, I thought I’d post my purchases from my August trip with some commentary (though I don’t have much to say about all of these…). All in Scandinavian languages, I’m afraid, but some of the classics listed here ought to be available in English as well.


En dåres försvarstal, an important but not-so-happy pseudo-autobiographical novel by “woman hater” August Strindberg. Written in French, originally, since this scandalous book is Strindberg’s paranoid justification of his divorce from his first wife, and caused a bit of a kerfuffle back home in Sweden as it was. That said, I’m only about 1/8 of the way through the book, and am going primarily from the general knowledge of the book that I’ve picked up…


And here, apparently, some short material by Strindberg that I hadn’t heard of before–since my specialty within Scandinavian Studies is more on the Old Norse side of things, I mostly just know of AS’s (hm…) more central canon.


And where we have Strindberg, we must also have Ibsen, his Norwegian nemesis. Three of HI’s (hm…) big plays here in nice cheap editions. I just barely caught the last tour of Ibsen’s Oslo apartment on the last day I was in Oslo, so that was nice. Was surprised to find out he had a painting of Strindberg in his office, to glare at him while he wrote (I think I’d heard that before, but it hadn’t stuck with me apparently…).


Jonas Hassen Khemiri (author of Ett öga rött) is a major figure in contemporary Swedish literature, in particular as a representative of the Swedish population with roots abroad–Swedes of color, I guess we would say. Jag ringer mina bröder (which I finished soon after I got home–short but good) brings us into the internal nightmare of someone who, after hearing that there has been a terror attack in Sweden, struggles with the feeling that everyone must be looking at him, judging him, suspecting him, because his skin and hair are darker than that of the stereotypical Swede. Included in the paperback edition that I got is Khemiri’s open letter to Swedish Minister of Justice Beatrice Ask on the subject of racial/ethnic profiling–you can read this letter, and the backstory, here at Asymptote as well. Looks like the book is already out in English, so I guess I can’t take it on as a translation project…


Have not had a chance to read this yet, but Theodor Kallifatides is another less-than-stereotypical-Swede, in this case an immigrant from Greece (he came in 1964), who already has a long literary career behind him in Sweden. I’ve been looking forward to reading something by him–I’ve gotten a glimpse of his work in a reader for an advanced Swedish course I took almost a decade ago, and he shows up in a reality show about a group of immigrants learning Swedish as part of an episode where they write part of the story (pretty terrifying stories some of them–one man had seen his parents killed and fled for his life). Don’t know anything else about this book yet, but look forward to reading it!


Along with the Strindberg short stories, this was a random but interesting-looking find at a beautiful used bookstore in Helsinki (finished my trip in Finland visiting some friends there). PO Enquist is certainly a name that shows up when you are involved in Swedish lit, and this had been nominated for the August prize (named, of course, after Strindberg), so I thought I would give it a try! But given how many books I’ve picked up, it may be a while…


Have enjoyed the variety of things I’ve read by Lars Gustafsson so far, so I picked this one up as well as the used bookstore. Haven’t cracked it open yet, but sounds like an interesting frame story (voluble American barber clipping a professor’s hair) with even more interesting stories (talking to the dead and such). We will see how it goes!


Having now taught Smilla’s Sense of Snow twice, I thought I should probably have a version in the original Danish lying around as well. Great book, and of course available in English as well (since 1993, I believe). A nice example of the Scandinavian detective novel, but also very unique, and fascinating for folks like me who like fantasy or sci-fi–definitely a whiff of the otherworldly in this book.


I’ve been a fan of John Ajvide Lindqvist since watching the original Swedish film version of his “Let the right one in”, and more so after reading (in English) his Handling the Undead (which I taught while at Gustavus Adolphus college), so I wanted to pick up a couple of his books. The new one here is Himmelstrand, in which a group of people in campers finds themselves in the middle of an unending plain. I don’t know anything beyond that, but to me Lindqvist feels more and more like a Scandinavian Steven King. I am not a fan of horror myself, but his work feels very original to me, and I always appreciate genre fiction that both interrogates its origins as well as transcends those origins.


I mentioned this briefly in my post about a recent English-language short story about the “Havsmannen” (the merman), so I was excited to be able to find a copy for myself! I don’t know whether there is any actual “fantastic” element to this story, as in, a real sea-man of some sort, (have just flipped through the first few pages), but it wouldn’t be too unexpected to find something of that sort, since another book by Vallgren features a telepath. Also available in English, looks like.


Can’t remember which shop I picked this up at, but of course I have to buy another of Tove Jansson’s Moomin books while in Sweden. I think I have this one in English, but haven’t read it yet. Great children’s books, but odd enough that cool adults can enjoy them as well. If you don’t, you are not cool, sorry.


Science Fiction Bokhandeln, Gamla Stan: The following books are more of the genre-sort–science fiction and fantasy, my favorites. I’ve been interested in learning more about the way these genres have been growing as an independent literary stream (as opposed to a collection of tropes to be used by mainstream authors), so it was exciting to realize there was a dedicated Science Ficiton bookstore in Old Town Stockholm. Will hopefully write more about all this one day! Meanwhile, here’s what I could afford to pick up while I was there.


Oscarian steampunk! Cool! Or “kul”? Anyway… the title is a bit clever, playing off off “i varje andetag”, which would be equivalent to “with every breath” or such in English, replacing the “ande” with the Swedish word for steam. Lulz. Anyway–it is a collection of short stories set in an alternate, steampunk Scandinavia with an Oscarian (think Victorian in the Anglophone world) theme. Have read a few stories, and my impressions are mixed. Hopefully a more thorough review to come later. I’m enjoying the novelty though, and some of the stories are nice “slice of steampunk life” bits.


I’m a lot more excited about the quality of this collection of short stories, and apparently others were as well as there were at least two sequels. The title Maskinblod (“Machine Blood”) is a slight play on “människoblod” (“human blood”), and the theme of some (all?) of the stories is what it is to be human. Haven’t gotten very far yet, but generally I’m enjoying this–turns out this publishing house has also put together a collection of translated Swedish short sci-fi for Anglophone audiences, so I’ll be posting more about this later.


“Four women, four girls” the title says. Male author, but all female protagonists. I haven’t gotten a chance to do more than flip through this, but we’ll see how it is in the end!


Can’t remember whether I found this one (“Evil Winter”) in the YA section or not… but looks neat anyway! Honestly, I have no idea about some of these except that they seemed likely choices as I flipped and scanned and browsed in the shop…


The Alchemist’s Daughter–I remember this one looking really interesting to me as I browsed. Don’t have it with me at the moment, but I may try prioritizing getting to this one…


Brimstone Winter–catchy title. The cover blurb says “A Borges for the epic format”, so I guess it has a lot to live up to… Anyway, seems like potentially a nice example of Epic Fantasy in Sweden, so we’ll see what I think.

The day I met Kiki

IMG_4647Highlight of my trip so far: meeting Kiki of Kiki’s Delivery Service (the Miyazaki version, of course–otherwise she wouldn’t be in Visby). Kiki very kindly gave her permission for the photo to go up here (and I’m glad I happened to run into her and her friend once more before leaving Visby this evening).

As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve become a big Miyazaki fan the last few years. Most of his work isn’t exactly aimed at my age range, but I really enjoy his creativity and sensitivity in his world-building and storytelling, and have been inspired by him when it comes to my own creative work, sparse as it is. I hadn’t known that the location of Kiki’s Delivery Service was inspired by Visby, Gotland, and Gamla Stan (Old Town) in Stockholm the last time I was here (over 8 years ago… yeesh), but when I first watched Kiki I did so with an eye for that inspiration.

According to the documentary, one of the sites that inspired the locations in Kiki.

According to the documentary, one of the sites that inspired the locations in Kiki. Formerly a coffee shop, now a crepe place.

Going back now, I was even more impressed with the movie as an homage to the “feel” of Visby–honestly, I found myself a bit confused between echoes of my own original impressions/memories, the portrayal of the town in the movie, and the revisiting of the Swedish locations in the Ghibli film locations documentary included in the extra features of my dvd of Kiki. I think what I enjoy in particular about this movie (though I like all the others as well) is how much a sense of a fascination with a place comes through–and the fact that it is a place I have visited as well, and even have a professional/sentimental connection to, makes it all the more interesting to see it treated by a storyteller/artist I admire.

So it was really fun for me to run into two cute girls on my second day in Visby, one of them dressed as Kiki with the dark blue dress and a red bow in her hair. I initially thought they were specifically there as Kiki fans, but when I ran into them again later in the afternoon they explained that the one dressed as Kiki just happened to wear that dress, and the other happened to have a red bow, and so they spent the day taking pictures of “Kiki” in Visby. Super cool, and I wonder if anyone else recognized her.

Just before I ran into them once more at the end of the day I had done a quick sketch of Kiki for fun (and to commemorate my second visit to Visby)–though I ended up making her a slightly older Kiki, I guess… Also, I just realized now that I hadn’t finished the picture–the hands aren’t done. :( But when I saw them again I decided I had to give them the picture, so I was a bit hurried about getting it ripped out of my sketchbook, haha. They were gracious enough to take it, haha, but I hope I wasn’t imposing on them too much. I got some photographs of it before hand, so you can see it below, along with some shots that connected to the movie for me. The drawing was pretty hasty… And my hands are not very steady after all this traveling and not enough sleep, but hopefully people enjoy it! :)

Kiki sketch!

Kiki sketch!




Solvorn and Urnes



Where I am now. Just spent the morning checking out Urnes stave church. Tomorrow back to Oslo, then on to Gotland.

Sorry for so few posts lately–spent the last month racing to finish revising my translation while teaching summer school and getting ready to move, also while trying to put together a trip to Scandinavia to check out some sites relevant for my past and future research and to practice my Swedish back in the motherland. And OK, wanted to see Norway again as well, for the first time since I was 15. Mostly have not had good internet access while here, along with troubles figuring out some of my travel and reservations, but I think things will probably work out. Wish I could just stay in one place for a few weeks and write though…

Did some quick sketches too, for the first time in ages–they are super rough, but here ya go anyway.




Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,110 other followers