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Reply to a Letter from Helga

Reply to a Letter from Helga Bjarni has long held onto a letter from former lover Helga with whom he shared an illicit impassioned love and whom invited him to leave his wife and his farm and follow her to the city Years later

  • Title: Reply to a Letter from Helga
  • Author: Bergsveinn Birgisson Philip Roughton
  • ISBN: null
  • Page: 162
  • Format: Paperback
  • Bjarni has long held onto a letter from former lover Helga, with whom he shared an illicit, impassioned love and whom invited him to leave his wife and his farm and follow her to the city Years later, as he reflects on a long and simple life shepherding in the Icelandic hillsides, he finally finds himself ready to explain why.With retrospective clarity and poetic affectioBjarni has long held onto a letter from former lover Helga, with whom he shared an illicit, impassioned love and whom invited him to leave his wife and his farm and follow her to the city Years later, as he reflects on a long and simple life shepherding in the Icelandic hillsides, he finally finds himself ready to explain why.With retrospective clarity and poetic affection, Bjarni pens his Reply to a Letter from Helga, weaving a life of longing for Helga s sensual presence and the visceral pleasures of daily exposure to the elements He has knowingly avoided the glamorous choices of modern living and taken comfort in the measured cadence of nature s cycles and thus he reduces the human condition to a series of mating seasons, passed on the land toiled by his forefathers.Nominated for the Icelandic Literature Prize, this story of unrequited love has been shared among readers in Europe, and now makes its English debut.

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      Posted by:Bergsveinn Birgisson Philip Roughton
      Published :2019-02-02T07:24:22+00:00

    1 thought on “Reply to a Letter from Helga

    1. I'm not surprised I had not heard of this author, as this is his only work translated into English so far. It was a happy accident that I saw it on the new books shelf at the public library.The book is in the form of a letter, from an old man to the love of his life, recently deceased, explaining his regrets and his perspective. It is heavily couched in Icelandic mythology and folklore, and while I didn't get all the references, there is a nice glossary helping to draw the connections. I'd love [...]

    2. In this interesting novella, an older Icelandic man replies to a letter received long before from the woman with whom he's had a passionate affair. Helga left the countryside for the city during the war and wanted him to come too, to get one of the many jobs that had been created with the advent of American forces at the time. Now all these years later, Bjarni is writing his answer---why he didn't follow her to the city.The story is full of allusions to Icelandic folklore (and there is a helpful [...]

    3. Review published in The Reykjavík Grapevine: grapevine/Home/ReadArticle/***A frank and poetic meditation on nature, relationships, and the choices that define us, Bergsveinn Birgisson’s Reply To A Letter From Helga paints an unflinching portrait of Bjarni, an elderly man on the verge of “the Great Relocation congenital to all men” who is ready to finally face the defining decision of his life and respond to a letter left unanswered for so many years.When, in his youth, his lover Helga off [...]

    4. A lyrical and poetic meditation on the things that matter most in life, Bergsveinn Birgisson’s “Reply To A Letter to Helga” focuses on a man who is torn between the love of his life and his true sense of self. For all its brevity, it is a most passionate and complete novella.Bjarni, a hay farmer in an isolated village, lives with his infertile wife whose botched uterine operation has made her unable to take physical or emotional pleasure in lovemaking. Into his life comes Helga, a richly s [...]

    5. Wow! Sikke en pragtfuld bog og endnu et fantastisk eksempel på, at kvalitet ikke hænger sammen med antallet af sider. Bogen er spækket med smukke naturbeskrivelser og et sjældent poetisk sprog (tak skal også lyde til oversætteren!) og det er slet ikke til at forstå, når man er færdig, at bogen kun er på ca. 120 s. Dette har været en kæmpe, kæmpe læseoplevelse af de sjældne - LÆS DEN!

    6. Bjarni, a sheep farmer in Iceland, writes a long love letter to a woman he had an affair with during the era of World War II. That could sum up this book in one sentence, but this book is much, much more than that.We learn of a man who loved the country and loved his animals and loved a woman. He loved a woman that was not his and a land that was very much his own. He made decisions that seemed to him to be practical and right yet he was always unsure if he were true to himself or not. Should a [...]

    7. "The thing is, this is how everything that's been built up in Icelandic culture is bungled; folk go abroad and learn some damned rubbish that has nothing to do with Iceland, but try in the name of the latest fashion to do everything they can to spoil and wreck the distinctive features that have developed here."This is my second book by an Icelandic author after a less than successful experiment last year with Halldòr Laxness' Iceland's Bell. (My review can be found here.) And maybe farmer Bjarn [...]

    8. Feb 2015Just as there are certain qualities I particularly like in people, so with books. It gets repetitive, actively listing them time after time. And with a good first-person narrator the parallel rings especially true. Old Icelandic farmer Bjarni is very self-aware, but has been less than perfect over the course of his life (lesser authors often portray characters as if these things can't go together). Not that he hasn't worked hard and also done things which, I agree with him as he looks ba [...]

    9. For my Around the World challenge (Iceland).Not sure what to think of this slender novel from Iceland. I think I should have read this in a Swedish or Norwegian translation (I'm frustrated I can't understand more than a few words of Icelandic) to get a different perspective, because I feel like I'm missing something here.The novel has been nominated for several prestigious literary awards and it's widely praised by Icelandic, Danish and Norwegian readers and critics, and yet I kept asking myself [...]

    10. This beautiful, elegiac book reflects on the narrator's lost love, but also on the richness and beauty of a past that has largely vanished. Bjarni is a man of few regrets and no self-pity, possessing such a clarity of vision and self-awareness. He is a man shaped by the natural rhythms of his rural environment, eschewing the siren call of urban living to which so many other Icelanders succumbed during the 1940s, which in turn cost him his great love, Helga. But one suspects that had Bjarni follo [...]

    11. The World's Literature Group is reading books set-in or written by Icelandic authors. Reply to a Letter from Helga was a wonderful novella that snuck up on me and captured my heart. Bjarni an elderly man is reflecting on his life in a letter that he is writing to Helga and contemplates the right and wrong of a particular choice that he has made - a choice that has haunted him since.Birgisson writes with a fluid poetry that captures a simpler time in Iceland when the world is in the middle of WWI [...]

    12. Wow. This book took my breath away. Ever since NPR's article about book-loving Icelandics came out last December I've been dying to read some Icelandic authors. When I stumbled upon this on the Kindle Store, I started reading a sample, was immediately hooked, and had to download it. Read it in less than three hours. Beautiful writing. The main character's reflective epistle turns what might seem an ordinary story and unremarkable life into something lustrous, flawed, and utterly compelling. Coul [...]

    13. It was strange to read a book translated from Icelandic. The references to folk tales, history, literature were weird to me. Fortunately, there are some helpful pages in the back explaining a lot of the references --- if you can remember what to look for at the end! They are listed by chapter so can be referred to as you read. Why didn't I think of that? The story line seemed very Nordic to me as did the characters. That's why I really liked it -- something different. Plus, that guy can really w [...]

    14. I really like this novel. It's about an Icelandic sheep farmer, who all his life is smitten with the love of an absent woman. The reader knows little about the woman Helga as the narrative is mainly the details about Bjarni's life and mind during her absence in Reykjavik. Bjarni's feelings come across in detail by contrast to Helga's anonymity and her being the intended recipient of this epistolary novel Bjarni's writing. Even so, there's irony in his responding after so many years. Her mind is [...]

    15. Ég las loks Svar við bréfi Helgu - kannski léleg frammistaða fyrir íslenskunema en betra er seint en aldrei ekki satt?Ég fór á að sjá leikgerð bókarinnar í Borgarleikhúsinu seinasta vor og hreifst af sögunni svo ég hugsaði að ég yrði loks að lesa blessaða bókina. Í stuttu máli sagt varð ég ekki fyrir vonbrigðum.Mér finnst þetta falleg, ljúfsár ástarsaga og hún er sögð á svo persónulegan máta að maður getur vart annað en hrifist með. Sagan er samt ekki [...]

    16. Sögusviðið í þessu snilldarverki finnst mér vera mín heimasveit. Karaktereinkennin þekki ég aftur þó ekki sé um raunverulegar persónur að ræða heldur samsettar úr mörgum. Viðfangsefnið held ég að sé tabú, bannhelgin, það er það sem er heilagt og það sem er bannað. Þarna er ástin, framhjáhald, dýraníður, traust, barneignir, samhjálp, sjósókn og landbúnaður allt í grauti lífsins. Hvað gerir giftur maður þegar hann heldur framhjá og eignast barn með [...]

    17. Ennui est le premier mot qui me vient à l’esprit lorsque je repense à l’écoute de ce livre.Je n’ai pas été touchée par cette lettre, cette déclaration d’amour post-mortem. J’ai trouvé certains passages intéressants (en particulier ceux qui expliquent la vie paysanne en Islande) mais toutes les explications sur l’amour déçu / impossible entre Helga et l’auteur m’ont laissé de marbre. Le côté animal, bestial, de la relation m’a paru vraiment étrange, parfois dérou [...]

    18. To be fair, this book could get more stars perhaps if I understood its Icelandic historical references outlined at the end of the book. I enjoy first person unreliable narrator novels as this is. For the most part it was a good book. Not great but short enough for me to want to keep reading to the end. Difficult to critique succinctly but it seemed to ramble a bit much and I would say that the author could have edited it a bit more. Some nice writing though and still a nice little read.

    19. Décidément, la littérature islandaise a toujours beaucoup à nous offrir. Il y a bien dans cette lettre quelques emportements difficiles à imaginer dans les mots d'un vieillard à la flamme de sa vie, et pour lesquels on aurait sans doute préféré le mode allusif, mais la relative jeunesse de l'auteur expliquera certainement cela. Il ne faudrait surtout pas bouder son plaisir parce que la sève est un peu verte.

    20. This novella is essentially a love song -- not to Helga, but to Iceland, the older, simpler Iceland (pre-WWII). The time before radios and television when neighbors relied on each other because there was no one else to help. Birgisson is clearly a poet who paints with words and fills your mind with wonderful pictures of the land, sea, and sky. The story here is very secondary to the evocative feeling he brings to you.

    21. Nydelig og hjerteskjærende. Den norske oversettelsen er nydelig. Den arkaiske nynorsken passer perfekt til historien, som finner sted på det islandske "bondelandet". Beskrivelsene er så gode, samtidig så enkle, at man lett ser for seg naturen, og føler det jeg-personen føler. Vel verd litteraturprisen, og oversetterprisen.

    22. Une jolie lettre d'amour, hommage à une passion qui s'est déroulée de manière aussi brève qu'intense, et qui se poursuit longtemps, pourtant, dans le coeur de celui qui l'écrit. Certains passages sont très poétiques, tandis que d'autres sont carrément crus, voire dérangeants. Ce roman reste néanmoins une jolie ode à l'amour, et aux choses qu'il vaut mieux se dire, tant qu'il est encore temps

    23. A reflective and introspective book about the choices one makes in life and the reasons why these choices were made. Beautiful sentence constructs and wonderfully flowing prose as a man, at the age of 90, living in a nursing home tries to explain his reasons for not pursuing the love of his life. Reminds me quite a bit of the writing of Linda Olsson, which is a very good thing.

    24. Beauté pure. Un vrai délice icelandais. Celui d'un vieillard à l'aube de sa mort qui écrit à l'amour manqué de sa vie une ode à la nature, à la vie, aux sentiments et à son bonheur raté. À lire et à relire

    25. The book light of my 2017 reading year. An honouring to minimalistic storytelling. A poetic read about love, loss, regret, nature, mythology and belonging. A courageous novella in its recognition that loving someone is not enough in itself. A rare tale in its ability to explore choice and the fullness of life:“Yes. Perhaps I have lived with love, not against it. Love is not just a bourgeois romantic notion of finding the one true match who will fill one's soul so full that it brims over and sp [...]

    26. De retour chez lui, Bjarni Gislason va écrire à l’amour de sa vie, Helga. C’est l’occasion pour lui de s’interroger et revenir sur sa vie et les choix qu’il a fait.J’ai apprécié ce témoignage amoureux que j’ai trouvé touchant et tantôt poétique tantôt drôle. Le vieil homme écrit à l’amour de sa vie, amour qu’il a laissé filer car il ne voulait quitter sa campagne, endroit qui l’a vu naitre et qui compte énormément pour lui.J’ai aimé :– l’écriture simple [...]

    27. This story is written as if it is a love letter to Helga (who lives on a neighbouring farm with her husband), but really it is a love letter to Iceland. A man reflects on his choice to stay in the Iceland countryside where he was born (9th generation of his family) and where he feels he is his authentic self, rather than leave it all behind to go to the city (Reykjavik) where he could have lived a more anonymous life with the woman he loves. The book is so full of references to Icelandic texts t [...]

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