Caught in the crossfire

A turn-of-the-century woman called Ljósa has been on Kristín Steinsdóttir's mind for fifteen years. Now the novel is out.

11. November, 2010 News

A turn-of-the-century woman called Ljósa has been on Kristín Steinsdóttir's mind for fifteen years. Now the novel is out.


It's a project I've been working on for a long time, in between other books,” says Kristín Steinsdóttir on her novel Ljósa, recently published by Vaka-Helgafell.

I started gathering material some fifteen years ago, and the subject matter has haunted me for a very long time,” she goes on. “I'm telling the story of a woman in the latter part of the 19thcentury and the beginning of the 20th. It was a different sort of life than what we lead. The struggle for survival was so different from what it is today. Generally, women had no possibility of education. They were married off and deviations simply weren't allowed.”

The title-character of Ljósa, an artistically gifted woman, is caught in the crossfire between her creative nature and the stringent expectations the rural Icelandic society has for its women.

“You were just supposed to give birth to your children and raise them, to mind your home and your man,” says Kristín. “There was no patience for those who wanted to be different in any way. These women gave birth to a never-ending string of babies. It was just grueling labour, the children kept dying, and you simply needed to be strong-boned. If you weren't, and if you had an urge to set off in a different direction that didn't fit in, you wound up out in the cold.

“Come to think of it, I'm not entirely sure that the men had much more choice ,” she adds. “Maybe some of them did – the richer ones, who could pursue an education and choose their paths. But they weren't many.”

LjosaKristín had been one of Iceland's best known author of children's books for the best part of three decades, with some thirty titles to her name, when her first novel for adults appeared in 2004, titled Sólin sest að morgni (The Sun Sets in the Morning). The second one, Á eigin vegum (By Herself) was nominated for the Nordic Council's Literary Prize.

"I don't want to write long books"

By Herselfwas very compact,” Kristín acknowledges, when we mention that Ljósa takes up considerably more space on the shelf than the two preceding works. “The Sun Sets in the Morning was even shorter. So I sometimes joke that now I'll have to throw in the towel, because I'm against long books. I don't want to write long books. I prefer terse prose. And I sheared away an awful lot, because I want to be able to tell a big story in few words. But it's such a big story that I couldn't tell it in fewer words.”

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