Devil's Island

Publisher: 
Place: 
Edinburgh
Year: 
1999

The novel Þar sem djöflaeyjan rís, translated to English by David MacDuff and Magnus Magnusson.

Excerpt from Devil's Island:

As for Baddi, he gave meaning to all the struggles of this world: that clever and handsome lad of promise, that blessed scion of the family, the granny's boy of the prayers which the queen of the Old House repeated to herself aloud as she did the dishes at the sink or in silence as she brooded over the cards and the future of strangers – the boy with the bright eyes and the smile, always helpful and generous to everything which drew breath.
Now he was expected home.
The Americans were lucky to have enjoyed his presence all these years, thought Karolína, that steely woman who had not allowed her feelings free rein for decades. Nowadays she talked of her Baddi with such tearful longing that even Tommi was moved and began to imagine that everything would be bright and beautiful when the angel came home. But Tommi had always been much more attached to Danni; they had so much in common, he and the younger brother whom few missed and whose memory meant no more to the family than a raven landing on a gable-head and cawing.
Tommi came to think, when he looked back, that Baddi had not been such a bad lot after all – that was just exaggeration and a lack of understanding of young people. Boys would be boys, wouldn't they? Before Baddi left he had become a bit of a burden to Tommi to be sure, because of the fines and damages he had had to pa; for all kinds of minor mischief Baddi had got involved in, but youngsters grew out of that sort of thing. Tommi was far more worried about the boys when they began to tinker with brennivín and steal bottles and get drunk and go into sheds and shacks with girls who screamed and bawled and came rushing out with fire and frenzy in their eyes, but who always allowed themselves to be lured into the sheds again. But why should Tommi worry about that? They were young and enjoying themselves. Tommi had come to the view that it was merely from envy that grown-ups always got so scandalised about young people who were able to take life lightly. Tommi himself – well, half a century earlier he had been just like Baddi, that was how history repeated itself. People often said that they were very alike, the grandfather and son, and Tommi would be touched but somewhat embarrassed and would change the subject. Although it was hard to understand, Tommi himself knew there was a grain of truth in it, for he could often see himself in Baddi: both of them were inordinately sensitive to cold, for instance, and before Baddi went abroad he always went around in long johns under his trousers and woollen stockings which came far up his legs – that fifteen-year-old ladies' darling. And if there was no tobacco, the boys would just take a pinch of snuff like any other healthy young Icelanders.
Then again, Tommi did not forget how good the boy had become at football. It was too bad he had given up training. It happened just after the trip to the Faroes and Norway – that was when Grjóni and Lúddi and most of the old hard-core players had also dropped it, and a new generation had taken over, led by Danni and other young brats. It was an unforgettable day when Baddi came to training for the last time and said he couldn't be bothered with all that kids' stuff. Then off he stalked in his rubber shoes, lighting a cigarette stub with practised hands as he went and throwing the matchstick up in the air and back-heeling it as it fell.
That was the end of his football training.
Baddi was nearly sixteen when he set off into the world in the big aeroplane - the dear granny's boy, she remembered it so well, the day he said goodbye to them at the airport, quiet but determined.

'When things go wrong in life's daily round,
Strong and steady stand your ground.'
(132-133)