Iceland’s Bókmenntahátíð í Reykjavík kicks off next week with the inaugural Halldór Laxness Award among many attractions

If it’s 2019, it must be time for the bi-annual Bókmenntahátíð í Reykjavík which this year has a spring date for the first time.  That will be April 24-27 for those who fancy a spring break in Iceland.

Don’t worry if you flunked Icelandic at school. Bókmenntahátíð í Reykjavík is of course the Reykjavík International Literary Festival, and all programmes are in English.

The festival website, also helpfully in Icelandic and English, says,

Over a span of more than 30 years, the festival has welcomed Nobel-prize winners, novelists, historians, political activists, philosophers, cartoonists and more to take part in lively programs.

The spring timing for the 14th incarnation of the Reykjavík International Literary Festival is to mark World Book Day on April 23, and a departure from the usual September date every two years since 1985.

This year’s theme is “adaptation”, rather appropriately at a time when more books than ever are finding adaptation into other media, from film and TV to theatre and games.

Whether you’re heading for the Reykjavík International Literary Festival or staying at home, you can still enjoy Icelandic literature, and What’s On In Iceland has a great list to choose from.

Among the recommendations is The Fish Can Sing by Halldór Laxness. Not the novel Laxness is best known for, but as What’s On In Iceland explains,

Independent People is Halldór’s best-known novel and it is nothing short of a masterpiece, but it’s also a bleak and depressing portrait of a poor farmer’s life complete with domestic violence, class injustice, child labour, and light paedophilia. What we’re saying is that this is no fun summer read. If you think you’re up for it, by all means, go ahead, but for a more palatable taste of Laxness, we recommend picking up The Fish Can Sing, a charming coming-of-age story set in Reykjavík at the turn of the century.

Laxness is Iceland’s only Nobel Laureate (1955) and as this is the centenary of the publication of his first novel, Barn náttúrunnar (Child of Nature), an international symposium is taking place this year.

One of the highlights will be the first ever Halldór Laxness Award which carries a 15,000 euro prize and comes about thanks to a partnership between the the Prime Minister’s Office, the Ministry of Education and Culture, Promote Iceland, the Laxness Museum (Gljúfrasteinn), the Reykjavík International Literary Festival, and Forlagið, which published Laxness in Iceland.

Also for 2019 is the third Orðstír award, which will go to two translators of Icelandic literature into foreign languages.

International authors are always big attraction at the Reykjavík International Literary Festival, and in the past has attracted the likes of Margaret Atwood, Herta Müller, Haruki Murakami, Günter Grass, and Kurt Vonnegut.

This year’s authors include David Foenkinos (France), Einar Kárason (Iceland), Simone van der Vlugt (Netherlands), Tom Malmquist (Sweden) and Yōko Tawada (JapanGermany).

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