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CHILDREN IN REINDEER WOODS by Kristín Ómarsdóttir Kirkus Star


by Kristín Ómarsdóttir & translated by Lytton Smith

Pub Date: April 17th, 2012
ISBN: 978-1-934824-35-1
Publisher: Open Letter

A literary allegory filled with truths and absurdities about the human condition.

An unspecified army invades an unspecified country. Three soldiers arrive at a farm that is also a “temporary home for children” named Children in Reindeer Woods. Without apparent motive, they murder everyone except an 11-year-old girl, Billie. Then the soldier named Rafael murders his comrades. Now he wants to stop killing and become a farmer. Billie is oddly unmoved by the killings and becomes his (platonic) companion as he tries to remake himself into a peaceful human being. Meanwhile, puppet masters on another planet pull strings as they try to manipulate events on Earth. This novel, translated from the Icelandic, takes getting used to. Many phrases are repeated numerous times, giving the story a strange cadence not often seen in Western literature. The characters are not from a particular country or a particular culture; they are from everywhere or anywhere or nowhere. Rafael wants to transform himself from everysoldier to Everyman. Can he go from blowing up bombs to helping Billie play with her Barbies? Others pass through Reindeer Woods, such as the wandering nun who stays overnight and either sleeps with Rafael or doesn’t. Rafael shoots off one of his toes every time he fails to live up to his own standards, but pain, bleeding and infection seem not to hobble him as he tends his cows and sheep. Despite all the bodies Rafael buries, there is also humor buried in the tale—not hilarity, but perhaps a few wry smiles at mankind’s foibles.

This is the first of Icelandic author Ómarsdóttir’s novels to appear in English, and it shouldn’t be the last. Somewhere in the reader’s mind, Catch-22 echoes faintly.