'I live here alone in a garage, together with a laptop and an old hand grenade. It's pretty cosy.'
And...she's off. Eighty-year-old Herra Björnsson lies alone in her garage waiting to die. One of the most original narrators in literary history, she takes readers with her on a dazzling ride of a novel as she reflects – in a voice by turns darkly funny, bawdy, poignant, and always, always smart – on the mishaps, tragedies and turns of luck that shaped her life.
Born into a prominent political family, Herra's idyllic childhood in the islands of western Iceland was brought to an abrupt end when her father foolishly cast his lot with a Hitler on the rise. Separated from her mother, and with her father away at war, she finds herself abandoned and alone in war-torn Germany, relying on her wits and occasional good fortune to survive. Now, with death approaching, forced to hack into her sons' emails to have any contact with them at all, Herra decides to take control of her destiny and sets a date for her own cremation – at a temperature of 1,000 degrees.
In this international bestseller, Hallgrímur Helgason invites readers on a journey that is as hilarious as it is heartbreaking, and which ultimately tells the deeply moving story of a woman swept up by the forces of history.
About the Authors
Hallgrimur Helgason is an Icelandic painter, novelist, translator, and columnist. His first novel was published in 1990 and he came to international fame with his third novel, 101 Reykjavik, which was translated into fourteen languages and was made into a film. A father of three, he divides his time between Reykjavik and the island of Hrisey.
Brian FitzGibbon is a translator and author. He is the translator of 101 Reykjavik, also by Hallgrimur Helgason, and of Butterflies in November by Audur Ava Olafsdottir, which was longlisted for the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize in 2014. He lives in Reykjavik.
`The hottest new book from Iceland... [Herra's] perspective might be just what we need in these uncertain times: She survives and shares her story on her terms. And what a story it is, one worth reading to further understand the complexity of World War II - and to enjoy the quick wit of a woman you won't forget.'
'Helgason's sad and funny novel begins in 2009, as 80-year-old Herra Bjoernsson lies dying in a Reykavik garage, still in possession of a live hand grenade from World War II...In her unsentimental, unsparing narrative, she offers insights into Icelandic culture and character, including a riff on reticence and a brief summary of Iceland's financial meltdown. Like the Icelandic landscape, she can be both appealing and treacherous.'
Publishers Weekly, starred review
'Icelandic novelist Helgason shares with John Irving a knack for masterful plotting and clever, sarcastic humour...anyone willing to...revel in its flights of language will find much to enjoy.'
'Extraordinarily absorbing and enjoyable. The story revolves around a woman who lived ahead of her time. Many young women would idealize Herra Bjoernsson. At the same time, it gives an insight into life during World War II.'
Washington Book Review
`Herra...is exceedingly quick-witted and has a wickedly colorful way with words... Brilliantly written with flashing insights.'