Be Still the Water by Karen Emilson

Be Still the Water

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An Icelandic girl must adjust to a new life after her family relocates to the homesteads of Canada in the early 20th century.

In this debut historical novel, Emilson tells a story of immigration that is peppered with loss, love, and mystery. The narrative begins as an elderly Asta Gudmundsson, the tale’s protagonist, lies in bed at a long-term care facility, reflecting on her life. She declares that her final goal before dying is to discover what happened to her younger sister, Freyja, who disappeared as a teenager. The narrative then shifts to a lengthy flashback through which the reader learns the story of Asta’s life. The Gudmundsson family arrived near Winnipeg in the early 1900s, settling in the farming and fishing community of Siglunes. They left Iceland in an effort to escape financial woes and a checkered history. As the clan begins to literally make hay under the sunshine, this new life appears promising. But family members soon realize that their father’s greatest enemy, Bensi Solmundsson from Skógafoss, owns the next farm over, and Asta fears they will always suffer from bad luck. Worse yet, as Bensi’s harassing antics grow increasingly aggressive, Freyja vanishes. Asta vows to find the girl, forsaking many of her own dreams in the process. Alternating between Asta’s memories and the present, the tale continues over decades, and characters continuously reappear, raising additional questions about Freyja. Emilson’s prose deftly exposes the intricacies of familial and romantic love, as complicated relationships flourish throughout the volume. While providing many absorbing details about Icelandic culture and history, the book also explores difficult issues of friendship and sacrifice, love and bereavement. With insight and finesse, the author tells a slow but satisfying story that is as engaging as it is devastating. Readers should be drawn into the ongoing drama that plagues one family in this singular work.

A captivating tale about progress and loyalty best suited for fans of historical family sagas.

Pub Date: July 19th, 2016
Page count: 532pp
Publisher: Perpetual Books
Program: Kirkus Indie
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1st, 2016