Frankfurt Book Fair – Part II

Poster of the Fabulous Iceland Exhibition«Guest of Honour» of the 2011 edition was Iceland, «fabulous Iceland» or, better, in the German motto, «Sagenhaftes Island». Typically I wasn’t very impressed by the presentations of the guest countries in previous years, but Iceland’s presentation was really appealing. I’m sure many other visitors liked it: the area of the Forum where it was hosted was regularly very busy.

There is something fascinating in a country with a flourishing production of literary works, and of books in general, although its population is barely over 320,000, so as fascinating is the history of the language, whose evolution in the centuries has been so slow and shallow that the Icelanders are proud to say that they can read the works of almost one thousand years ago as if they were written today (or almost so). The Eddas (that’s the collective name of the sagas, whose exact meaning is obscure, probably hinting at the old age of the stories) are the written witness of an ancient tradition, probably dating back to the first centuries a. D., and crossed the centuries thanks to a famous manuscript, the Codex Regius, now in Reykjavík (the story of this Codex is in itself really interesting).

The Eddas were greatly influential on the German Romanticism, and they are the base of Wagner’s Ring – although Wagner modified them at his will, and for the sake of his purposes, the ascent is still worth exploring. Among the many publications already on the market, I’ll mention at least a very recent Longman Anthology of Old English, Old Icelandic, and Anglo-Norman Literatures edited by Richard North, Koe Allard and Patricia Gillies (published by Longman last August). The sagas are understandably well represented in the German book market (in German translation), with some fine high-level editions with commentary; on the occasion of the Fair also a few paperback edition were published, amon them Die schönsten isländischen Sagas, by Insel Verlag, a selection made by Arthúr Björgvin Bollason based on a much larger edition Insel published in 1982 (Isländer-Sagas) with the translation from old Icelandic written by Rolf Heller.

The interest spanned by this year’s Guest of Honour is to be seen also in the special “Fabulous Iceland” feature developed by the British Library as part of their British Libray 19th Century Historical Collection iPad App (freely downloadable from Apple’s AppStore). The books featured are 42: among the others, A Pilgrimage to the Saga-Steads of Iceland by W. G. Collingwood and Jón Stefansson, a book first published in 1899. The selection was edited by Barbara Hawes, the British Library’s Curator for Scandinavian Studies.

Although most of the Icelandic books translated today are mistery and thriller novels (with Arnaldur Indridason as the most notable writer, whose books are translated in many languages, English, German and Italian included), the German publishers pay attention also to the recent Icelandic literary fiction: Insel Verlag published this year also and interesting anthology, Die schönsten Erzählunge Islands, edited by Gert Kreutzer, Soffía Auður Birgisdóttir and Halldór Guðmundsson, dedicated to the 20-century short-stories writers. Who wants to know something more about contemporary Icelandic literature, can find many information on a fine website, www.literature.is (in Icelandic and in English), run by the Reykjavik City Library. At a press conference at the Fair, AmazonCrossing (the new imprint of Amazon) announced the intention to publish in the near future ten Icelandic titles, starting with The Greenhouse by Auður Ava Ólafsdóttir and Hallgrímur Helgason’s The Hitman’s Guide to Iceland.

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