Book Reviews & Essays on Literature

The Blue Fox, by Sjón

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The Blue Fox, by Sjón, published 2003 by Bjartur; first published in the United States in 2013 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux. Trnslated by Victoria Cribb. Awarded the Nordic Council’s Literature Prize. Titled “Skugga-Baldur” in Icelandic.

It is rare to find an arctic fox described as beautifully as in The Blue Fox. It is about the Archdeacon of a small village, “Baldur Skugasson”, who shoots and kills the fox, and pharmacist and botanist “Fridrik Fridjónsson”, who shelters a severely traumatized – raped, tortured and apparently dumb – girl, “Hafdís Jónsdóttir” on his farm. But it is also about the just desserts for cruelty and intolerance. Again, the story is set in specific periods in Icelandic history, 1883 and 1868, and accurately – bluntly – states how Icelanders of that time handled mentally ill and retarded people: they called them “eejits” (idiots) and sent them to live on people’s farms, much to the chagrin of the farmers. (pp. 63 – 64) The clue of the relationship between Baldur and Fridrik is in the names, the patronymic naming system: In Icelandic, a girl child’s surname or maiden name, is the first name of her father, with “dóttir” (daughter) added on. So Hafdis Jónsdóttir is the daughter of somebody with the first name of Jón. Same for boys, with “son” (son) added on. So, somebody called Fridjónsson is the son of Fridjón. So the clue there is the common name “Jón”. But “John’s daughter” in Icelandic means no more than “Icelander’s daughter” – it’s like “Jane Doe”. (Continue reading…)

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