An odd duck of a book, by a mid-century Danish author, but you see, there is a map, and thus I am powerless to resist.
The map in question is that of Sand Island, a small island off of the Danish coast, and for most of the book, entirely ice bound. There are only a couple score of islanders, and those off on the mainland are as important as the inhabitants, since the confining ice comes abruptly and unpredictably. The narrator, Johannes Lye, is the school master for the island and also what passes for the priest, since he reads the lessons in the tiny parish church. The story is told to someone named Nathan, but Lye is the first to tell you that there is no such person, and that most of what he narrates is a lie. But to what purpose?
Lye had never meant to be there long, but has now been here long enough that his former pupils are sending children of their own to his school. He clearly loves teaching, and making up games to teach the children of the flora and fauna of the island, and its natural history.
I enjoy coming up with something new each morning. For the children. A bit of a surprise that can be put up on the wall, say. . . But there has to be a ruse to sharpen their curiosity. To rouse their wonder at the world.
But he is also lonely, with only a dearly beloved hunting dog (for snipes!) for company. His drinking can be problematic, as well, and he feels guilty for an accident that affected the island deeply in the recent past. Island society is female oriented at this point, since those caught offshore were the men folk, and the men may be in for a few surprises when they return.
It’s a quiet tale, with lovely writing, but the initial premise still has me puzzled. At the end, he reveals some of the lies, but they are not significant – the matter of some of the timing, perhaps. So why the structure? Well in any event, I was more than happy to explore Sand Island and meet some of Lye’s neighbors. Then of course, there was that lovely hand-drawn map.