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Iceland

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Iceland

Did we really need a new book in which the author (according to the most recent issue of Publishers Weekly) “peppers the narrative with neologisms supposedly coined by famous gossip columnists, and annoyingly styles the text so that nearly every name, brand name, and fabulous venue appears in bold”? Should trees really have died for this? No, we did not and no, they should not have. What we do really, really need is a book about Iceland. Specifically, a book in which it is made clear that the characters’ psyches are indelibly and intrinsically tied to Iceland’s unique geological happenings. Did you know that geology is compulsory in Icelandic elementary schools? How lovely would a memoir be from the point of view of a geologically inquisitive Icelandic first-grader?

Even more imperative, however, is a work of fiction that will be titled Moduhardindin. Perhaps there’s a subtitle: The Hardship of the Fog. It will be set in 1783, and will focus on a village devastated by the Laki eruption, the second-greatest eruption of the last 1,000 years. Surely everybody who read the following article from the BBC was similarly struck with the urge to run outside and scream, We need a book about this right away!!

On 8 June, 1783, the young country of Iceland—inhabited for less than 1,000 years—had a population of 50,000. In the coming years, as a result of what began that Sunday morning at 9am, 10,000 of those people would die. The Laki eruption is the worst catastrophe in the country’s relatively short history…. Over the next eight months the Lakagigar—literally “craters of Laki”—spewed 600 square kilometres of boiling lava into the surrounding countryside and belched more toxic gases than any eruption in the last 150 years. The effects were felt all over the northern hemisphere…. The noxious fog travelled down through Norway, Germany, France and across to Britain, causing panic when farm labourers began dropping like flies…. Research into parish records has led to estimates of more than 20,000 deaths in Britain alone during the summer of 1783…. It was only in the autumn that the fog finally lifted. But soon an even worse problem was on the way—the most severe winter for 250 years, caused by the buildup of heat-absorbing sulphur dioxide in the stratosphere. But nowhere suffered more than Iceland…. People died not because of the eruption, but because of starvation. The farm animals died, the crops died—it affected the whole country…. The extreme winters that followed—caused by the sulphuric gases—ensured that a fifth of the country’s population died, historians estimate. It is a period of tragedy etched onto the Icelandic psyche, says Magnus Gudmundsson, professor of geophysics at the University of Iceland. It has become the yardstick by which all painful periods in the country’s history are measured, he adds. “We have a word for it—Moduhardindin—meaning ‘the hardship of the fog.’”

Obviously, cover art for Moduhardindin will be critical. Let’s not copycat the style used for Halldór Laxness’s books, each of which features a rural, pastoral painting on the upper half of the cover. That would be predictable and tiresome. And please—no fog! That would be unconscionably literal-minded of you.

Incidentally, The Book Shark has yet to be contacted by any author(s) at work on a novelization of the Mountain Meadows Massacre, per my 2004 request (see Under the Banner of Heaven). Is anybody at work on this? Please feel free to send us manuscripts of either the Meadows Massacre book or Moduhardindin prior to their release when there’s still time to make changes. Flawless writing for these books will be essential.

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