An appreciation of Sjon
If you’re a die-hard McSweeney’s fan then you know that their 15th issue was devoted to Icelandic literature. In that issue, which I found at my university bookstore’s yearly liquidation sale (which also marked the beginning of my love for McSweeney’s, a love that slowly suffocated for reasons I can’t fully explain but probably have something to do with the paradox of a counter-cultural corporation and constant rejection letters). In that issue I read an excerpt from Skugga-Baldur (The Blue Fox), a novella by an author named Sjon, translated into English by Victoria Cribb. It was fantastic. Dark, hopeful, and of substance. I wanted to read the rest of it. But I couldn’t find it for sale from any publisher. I emailed the editors. To my surprise they emailed back quickly and warmly with the email of another Icelandic author, Birna Anna Björnsdóttir, with whom I corresponded. She contacted the publisher on my behalf, who then contacted the University of Iceland, whose library had “a few extra copies” of the full English translation of Skugga for $US24. Birna said I’d get it in the mail and told me to send the University a check when the package came. The slim novella arrived with a receipt written in Icelandic. I wrote a check to them as fast as I could and ran to the mailbox, heart pounding with love for the universe.
Like I said, the book is good. Very good. And Sjon is very cool. He wrote an opera. And a movie. He has other books, one of which is coming out in English later this month. And, finally, the good people at Words Without Borders published some some newly translated Sjon poems recently. Please check him out.