From the co-author of Saga Land comes an epic novel that reimagines the fate of one of Iceland’s most famous women.
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ABOUT THE BOOK
After committing an audacious act of revenge for her brother’s murder, Disa flees with her son Sindri through the fjords of Iceland. She has already endured the death of her loved ones. Now she must run to save her son, and her honour.
In a society where betrayals and revenge killings are rife, all Disa has is her pride and her courage. Will it be enough for her and her son to escape retribution?
Dramatic and urgent in its telling, The Sorrow Stone celebrates one woman’s quest, against the dramatic backdrop of the Icelandic countryside. In this gripping novel, the co-author of the bestselling Saga Land takes a sidelined figure from the Viking tales and finally puts her where she belongs – at the centre of the story.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Kári Gíslason is a writer and academic who lectures in Creative Writing at QUT. Kári was awarded a doctorate in 2003 for his thesis on medieval Icelandic literature. His first book, The Promise of Iceland (UQP, 2011), told the story of return journeys he’s made to his birthplace. His second book was the novel The Ash Burner (UQP, 2015). He is also the co-author, with Richard Fidler, of Saga Land: The island of stories at the edge of the world (HarperCollins, 2017), which won the Indie Book Award for Non-Fiction in 2018.
I first read Disa’s story when I began reading the Icelandic sagas as a teenager. I was born in Iceland, but I moved to Australia as a boy, and so these stories – which are tales about the Viking settlement of the island and fights between rival families – were part of how I retained a connection with my birthplace. In a way, the sagas took me home. Disa’s story is found in The Saga of Gisli, which is mainly about her younger brother. It’s a fascinating, complex work that reveals all the intensity and difficulty of families, and also the often-brutal nature of life at this time. But Disa is judged harshly by those around her, as she has been by subsequent generations. She made choices that have been seen as a “betrayal” of those she loved. When I was young, I didn’t really question the story and the judgments it made. But over the years, I’ve thought more and more about Disa’s choices, her side of things. Eventually, that questioning led to this attempt to meet Disa in a re-imagining of her story.
This type of storytelling is sometimes known as ‘feminist retelling.’ What other books have you read that put women at the centre of previously male stories?
I found Circe by Madeline Miller to be an extraordinary book in this respect, also Foe by J. M. Coetzee and of course Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys. More broadly, I’ve always been interested in books that respond to earlier art and stories, such as Possession by A. S. Byatt, How To Be Both by Ali Smith, or Jack Maggs by Peter Carey. I was fortunate in that there’s a substantial amount scholarly research about female characters in the sagas; a recent example is Jóhanna Katrín Friðriksdóttir’s Valkyrie. And then, of course, the novel as a form has a long tradition of centring women’s perspectives. For me, key influences were the novels of Jane Austen, the Brontë sisters, Ann Radcliffe, Edith Wharton, George Eliot – books I devoured as a teenager at the same time as I started reading the sagas. Years later, I feel these writers achieved what I am trying to do, in re-telling family stories that are often dominated by a male point view.
What do you wish Australians knew about Iceland?
Iceland’s so centrally ‘on the map’ now that it’s hard to imagine how separate it once felt. But I think a big part of understanding the country and the meaning of the old sagas lies with Icelanders’ feeling of being apart from the rest of the world. This is changing. But underneath that change is a really powerful localism and love of landscape that shows up in how people cherish stories, myths, fairy tales, and family traditions. I think it’s also why, whenever I go back, people are perplexed by my obstinate refusal to leave the comforts of Australia and accept my duty to live through snow storms and endless winter nights.
The Sorrow Stone will be supported by an East-coast author tour, significant publicity and a shopping centre advertising campaign.
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