Roy Jacobsen

"The Saga of Njal contains everything needed for the difficult task of becoming a human being," writes the Norwegian author Roy Jacobsen.

A Fear of Growing Up

Dear friends,

ARoy Jacobsenfter accepting the offer to be Reader of the Month at Sagenhaftes Island, I could certainly have written about The Black Cliffs, which even today scintillates with tragic beauty. I could have discussed Guðbergur Bergsson's The Swan. Or Einar Már Guðmundsson's Angels of the Universe, the short stories of Gyrðir Elíasson, Einar Kárason's brilliant novels. I could discuss Andri Snær Magnason or relate the history of great Icelandic poets, from Egill Skallagrímsson to the aforementioned Andri Snær.

In the end, I choose The Saga of Njal. Not only because it is the mother of Icelandic literature, but also because when I was exposed to it in high school, it transformed my life. I had a very fine teacher who introduced me to The Saga of Njal,and I was instantly captivated. It was the most vital and gripping work I had ever read up to then. I was just a boy, enthralled in the way only boys can be. Nevertheless, I didn't read it to the end, this magnificent work I already knew would be interwoven with my destiny, both as writer and reader. I think I made it to page one hundred fifty, when Flosi arrives on the scene and turns everything on its head. I was so exhausted I had to take a break from the reading.

I later realized why.

It was too much for a young boy, because I felt a sudden fear of growing up. The Saga of Njal would change me, it contained too much. And I didn't want to change – like Oskar Matzerath, I didn't want to acknowledge any world but my own. The book waited untouched for many years, until, seized by a sudden impulse, I returned to it. And I realized that my anxiety was well founded, because The Saga of Njal contains everything needed for the difficult task of becoming a human being.

At thirty-something I reread it, and this time we made a connection, the story and I. I gained an accomplice and a companion who has followed me through life like a true friend should, with admonitions, words of consolation and constant surprises, combined with the feeling that life, with all its ups and downs, can be endured after all. The Saga of Njalis 800 years old, and in all likelihood it will carry on existing for a few thousand years yet. In other words, it is not only an all-encompassing historical novel, but a crystal ball as well.

Roy Jacobsen was born in Norway in 1954. In 1982, he debuted with the short story collection Fangeliv (Prison Life), and has since published three more short-story collections, eleven novels, a biography and a children's book, in addition to numerous articles on various themes, including the Norse sagas.

Jacobsen is one of Norway's most prestigious writers. He has received a host of awards in his home country and has twice been a finalist for the Nordic Council's Literature Prize. In 2008, his novel The Burnt-Out Town of Miracles was published in the UK by John Murray.