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A codex of an Icelandic writer and his roots – CoDex, by Sjón (Part 4 – The nuclear fallout)

CoDex 1962 – A Trilogy, by Sjón (translated by from the Icelandic Victoria Cribb; hardcover; publisher: MCD/Farrar, Straus and Giroux; First American edition September 11, 2018; 528 pages)

Part 4/4 of The Long Read review of Codex 1962, by Sjón

(Back to part 3/4 of the review)

The review of Codex 1962 continues with the last part of the trilogy.

Part III – I’m a Sleeping Door – a Science Fiction Story

Part III starts on page 345 and by then you, as the reader, have been submerged into this torrent of images and lists and a life-story spanning decades and world wars and even the realm of angels. It was at this point that I began to discern a distinct personal link between Sjón the author, with his own subject, and his particular worrisome suggestions about the CoDex genome project.

It turns out that the project for which Jósef Loewe is being interviewed, as a part of obtaining the DNA and life stories of the 4,711 children born in Iceland in 1962, is because so many suffer from birth defects due to the prevalence of atmospheric nuclear bomb tests over that area of the North Atlantic. This includes Jósef, whose body is covered with hard growths.

“By the end of 1962, the radiation in Iceland’s atmosphere had reached unprecedented levels. What happened was inevitable: Children of the 1962 generation mutated…’” (p. 272)

Nuclear rocket detonation “Kingfish”, Nov. 1, 1962

What does that say about Sjon’s fear for his future? Nuclear testing over Iceland is an historical fact, and the effects are still being debated today. But erupting volcanoes on Iceland also release radioactive particles into the atmosphere – and that also causes forms of cancer and birth defects. In the Encyclopedia of Genetic Disorders and Birth Defects by James Wynbrandt and Mark D. Ludman, it mentions that in Iceland, “individual members of and isolated populations share a genotype and exhibit common traits. These traits may include hereditary disorder that occur at incidence rates much, much higher than those seen in the general public.” (p. 212, 3rd. ed., Infobase Publishing, 2008).

The introduction of the interview with Jósef Loewe, which is actually the beginning of the book. It refers to his condition, “Stone Man syndrome”. (pp. 392, 393)

So is it the nuclear fallout that causes this generation’s disorders, or is it in their gene pool, or is it because of the volcanoes? And is the geneticist who heads up this project as bad as any Nazi “zebra-maker” or doing everyone a favour?

The point is that this existential dread builds, page after page, until, finally, in the chapter called “The Dance”, the choir of the dead who were born in 1962 ends their performance with Jósef Loewe saying to the audience: “ – Dear Sjón, I await you here.” (p. 505) Now that’s scary!

Conclusion

Sjón ends his narrative in the Epilogue by not ending it, pointing out that the tale is unfinished, as is the language it is told in, as is the earth that the people in it live on. Yet, I think that Sjón the author, born in 1962 as Sigurjón Birgir Sigurðsson, has maybe written his own life story here, one that will only be completed and understood when, in a 100 years, in 2114, his secret novel written for the Future Library Project will be opened and read for the first time.

The title isn’t so simple after all

The Icelandic title of the first part of the book is, 1962 – Augu þín sáu mig, which translated is “1962 – Your eyes saw me” or “Thine Eyes Did See My Substance”. That is interesting because “Sjón” means “sight” in Icelandic, and quite a few times in the novel he mentions sight, or ways of seeing things. Perhaps this book is a way of Sjón really saying to the viewer, “your eyes have seen my substance, you have read my codex”.

Over Sjón’s head, and mine, since we were both born in 1962, hang the Swords of Damocles of our deaths. We are both more than halfway there and our codices have been more than halfway written. We know where we have come from, but who knows how we will end our lives and how, if at all, we will be remembered.


 

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