The Journey Home

3.54 avg rating
( 374 ratings by Goodreads )
 
9780375420610: The Journey Home

In this beautifully crafted novel, Icelandic writer Olaf Olafsson tells the moving story of a woman who, in the remaining months of her life, undertakes an extraordinary emotional journey.

        For years, Disa has lived a quiet life, managing an English country-house hotel with her close companion, Anthony. Having learned she is terminally ill, Disa decides it is time to travel back to the village in Iceland where she was born. With enormous sensitivity, Olafsson carries the reader with Disa on her quietly heroic journey. As she goes north, events she has spent most of her life trying to forget are slowly revealed. Turned away by her mother, her young fiancé murdered by the Nazis, Disa was left to find refuge as a cook in a wealthy household that contained within it the seeds of both sexual and political violence. The consequences have marked her forever; only now can she attempt to find a resolution.

        A rich and moving portrait of a woman by an exceptionally gifted writer.

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Review:

Holed away in lush British farm country, Disa runs a small inn with her friend Anthony. They're both past middle age, eccentrics who understand each other too well. Their life consists of early mornings, chores, twilight walks down to the reflecting pool. Guests descend on the place in spring, full of noise and expectation. Disa runs the kitchen, serving up gourmet dinners that have become famous among savvy food critics and tourists.

Olaf Olafsson's The Journey Home is constructed in tight succinct fragments, like journal entries. Shuttling between past and present, it's about reckoning with grief and bad memories in the face of death. Diagnosed with a terminal illness, Disa knows she needs to make a journey back to Iceland, a place that reflects the past back to her: a mother who abandoned her, a fiancé eventually killed by the Nazis.

Although not much directly happens in this novel, great tension develops between the pull of memory and the push of the moment. In Disa, Olafsson (Absolution) has created a vibrant character who wants to overcome sadness by plunging into the sensual. She's always cooking up fantastic meals, and the descriptions of food are truly mouthwatering: trout "fried with a sprinkling of ground almonds," apples "which I love to bake after they have soaked in port for a long, quiet afternoon." The powerful smells and sights of life rescue Disa from fear--if she doesn't quite believe in God, she believes in the immediacy of the world. This is the novel's subtly redemptive tendency, laid out piece by piece in Disa's soothing melancholy voice: "Sometimes you have to get a grip on yourself to keep your thoughts under control, but it's worth it. The reward is just around the next corner, whether it is a clutch of perfect eggs in a basket or the sound of birdsong on a still day. The soul can take delight in small things if one's dreams only leave it in peace long enough." --Emily White

From the Back Cover:

"Soulful and thoughtful... An impressively mature and wide-ranging book, both geographically and emotionally."
--The New York Times Book Review

"Luminous... Searing in its quietness, overwhelming in its intent, this novel of silence stands witness to the heroic nature of life."
--Booklist (Starred Review)

"Undeniably graceful... It is vulnerability that makes The Journey Home so complete and appealing."
--Newsday

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Olaf Olafsson
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