Translated from Danish by Caroline Waight
The Faroe Islands may be autonomous but officially they are – like Greenland – part of the Kingdom of Denmark. Migrants from the Faroes usually head for the mainland, seeking better career opportunities. As does Fritz in the months before the outbreak of WWII. He is joined by his financée, Marita, who arrives in Vordingborg the day the Germans marched into Poland.
The story of Fritz and Marita is told in retrospect by their granddaughter during a family visit to the islands following their deaths. Although born a third-generation Faroese in Denmark, to the narrator, the Faroes is home. What does that mean exactly? Especially when one is both insider and outsider?
For Fritz, home always remained the islands. He left to become an engineer. His intention was to return, to work in the power plant at Botni, but the war put paid to that. Instead he became a teacher and his granddaughter’s mentor. Gradually and during many childhood visits to the Faroes with her grandfather, she developed the same deep connection to the place.
I found the disintegration of Fritz’s dreams over time saddening. (More than that actually, substitute Germany for the Faroes, and the author is speaking on my behalf.)
“The plant was his starting point, his Ithaca, and therefore mine as well; the place he wanted to leave and then go home to”.
“I wanted to say something about assimilation; that assimilation is a methodical loss of memory.”
“In time, the talk of moving back home lost its substance; became something else, a spasm of longing.”
What triggered Fritz’s desire to leave in the first place? An abhorrence of fishing. You can actually feel it, taste it almost in the description of his first, and only, experience fishing on the Arctic wave. More evocative even are the descriptions of his beloved landscape, seen through his granddaughter’s eyes. Indeed the heartfelt connection to the land sings loud and clear despite the ever-present rain. (Well, we are at 62° N.) Through everyday interactions on the islands, Jacobsen records everyday life, both 2 generations ago and now. Not much has changed – it appears there are still no nightclubs! (Is that such a bad thing?) And there’s an object lesson on pages 10-11 for divided Brits to listen respectfully to both sides of the argument concerning whether the Faroes – part of the Kingdom of Denmark, though not of the EU – are still European …
I loved almost everything about Island, and I see do see myself revisiting it. Although I have to say this. I will skip the opening sections in which Marita terminates an unwanted pregnancy. I could have done without that. Neither did the novel require it, though, I suppose it does show how things have changed in the decades since 1939.