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De thuisreis by Olaf Olafsson

De thuisreis (original 1999; edition 2005)

by Olaf Olafsson

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1911561,769 (3.54)24
Title:De thuisreis
Authors:Olaf Olafsson
Info:Amsterdam Nijgh en Van Ditmar 2005
Collections:Your library
Tags:Iceland, England, flashback

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The Journey Home by Olaf Olafsson (1999)



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An Icelandic chef travels from London to Reykjavik in The Journey Home - she travels in a literal sense, and as in quality fiction, her journey takes on a metaphoric dimension as well. Her journey’s meaning is revealed to us in the course of her first-person narrative, and along the way the author treats us to some remarkable effects. This is a bewitching book, with its low-key diction and its high-strung, independent heroine.

Her name is Asdis, and is called Disa for short. In her life she goes her own way, to the chagrin and frustration of her family, her mother in particular. After “an expensive” course of training in clerical work, she opts for a career in cooking. She falls in love with and agrees to marry a German Jewish man just as World War II is starting, and this too, irks her family. In fact she and her mother become estranged. The present-day part of her story occurs long after these events, however, and although she has spells where she strongly doubts the success of her mission, she pushes on in spite of herself.

Olaf Olafsson manages this portrait with a very different but highly affecting scheme. Disa’s telling of her story has the feel of a long, one-sided conversation, drawn out through a single, talk-filled night. She bounces around in time as she weaves her tale, but don’t be fooled: none of this ever approaches aimlessness. Mr. Olafsson has a very distinct, very touching story to relate, and he bends his heroine and his style to its ends very surely. I found the whole very effective and very memorable.

Disa has her dark moments and her author deepens them with perfectly striking imagery and blunt-spoken philosophy. About 80% through the book our narrator avers: “You grow up, people say, as if they have attained some higher wisdom, and will even put on a solemn face if they are sufficiently dishonest with themselves, or else mutter the assertion in low tones, avoiding looking in the mirror.” And a few sentences later: “Hope is the sister of self-deception and I have learned to avoid those sisters as far as I can. Their smile is fawning and their manner false … The truth demands accuracy and concentration which sometimes makes it hard to handle.”

The accuracy and concentration here are undeniable. Mr. Olafsson gives us an unblinkingly honest heroine, one who savages herself when she feels she deserves it – you will not always agree that she does deserve it. She can be prickly at times, and a hard partner to live with; this is a complete portrait: intricate, nuanced, realistic.

I recommend this book highly to the readers who happily lose themselves in intimate psychological dramas. The author approaches his subject in a unique way, and we the readers benefit: Disa’s emotional journey deserves a wide circulation. Take this up!

http://bassoprofundo1.blogspot.com/2015/05/the-journey-home-by-olaf-olafsson.htm... ( )
  LukeS | May 27, 2015 |
Title: The Journey Home: A woman makes one last journey home to face what she left behind.


Disa is at the end of her life. Her doctor has given her, at the outside, a year to live. The disease that is killing her doesn't matter, its finality makes her realize that she can no longer put off dealing with a past she did not want to relive. So Disa sets off on a journey to her native Iceland to see the outcome of that terrible time during WW2 when she found happiness for a while and then lost it when the horrible realities of war became all to real to her younger self.

Along the way we learn about what led her to start her successful bed and breakfast with her friend Anthony, her attempt to fix a falling out with a old friend, and finally what caused her to move to England.


This was a nice departure from my usual staple of Sci-Fi and action / adventure stories. I like these kinds of books every now and then especially when they are done well. In this case, at least to me, it was done well as the author succeeds in moving the story along by bringing the past alive and by making the conversations between characters interesting.

The way the story is written almost reminds me of an old sci-fi book I read called “Cuckoo's Egg by C.J. Cherryh”. In that story the conversations are almost more interesting and tense than any of the battles that occur throughout the story. In this story it's more the recreation of what it was like for those that were affected by WW2 and what the atmosphere was like at the time. When it comes to Disa she can come off as a little stiff and frosty on occasion but in the end it's understandable why she trys to keep everyone and everything at arm's length. If I have one complaint with this story its that it does have the “whiplash” effect occasionally as the story can bounce back and forth around the time line abruptly sometimes. All and in all I recommend this to anyone who is looking for a story that takes the reader to the past and tells a story about why someone became who they are. m.a.c ( )
  cahallmxj | Oct 18, 2014 |
This character-driven novel is a qiet, introspective look at the life of Asdis "Disa" Jonsdottir as she prepares herself and Anthony for her death. She and Anthony have been running a hotel from his ancestral home, where Disa as the chef has been offering excellent food to their clientele. Disa has a terminal illness and has promised to return to her native Iceland before she dies to put to rest the ghosts of her past. A beautifully rendered book about family, love, persistence, and regret. ( )
  whymaggiemay | May 27, 2014 |
A very good book, but not a great book and I guess I was hoping for great. The story of a dying woman in Scotland who decides to journey home to the village in Iceland where she grew up. In the process she faces many demons from her past. My main problem was that the character wasn't entirely likable, which I suppose made her more human, but I was thinking that with all she had been through she would have been more humane. ( )
  hayduke | Apr 3, 2013 |
Disa Jonsdottir is looking back on her life as she prepares to return home to Iceland for the first time in many years. The story unfolds in a series of vignettes that jump around chronologically, which took some getting used to, but, with its first-person narrative and sometimes dreamlike, sometimes discursive style, felt very much like an intimate conversation. Disa is a wonderfully drawn, authentic character, with a short temper, an impetuous nature, and deep wounds from the past. Her flashes of pique are interspersed with kindnesses and quiet reflections of the unique, meditative, and even stark beauty of the English countryside, where she runs a summer inn with her companion Anthony, and Kopasker, Iceland, the wild, remote village of her childhood. I was so moved by Olafsson’s descriptions of Kopasker that I looked it up -- it is a sheepherding and fishing village of about 130 residents located just about as far north as can be in Iceland, with rivers, lava fields, and dramatic fjords, and in my imagination it is little changed from Disa’s youth in the 1930s. I ached for Disa when she remembers her fiancé, and when she revisits issues unresolved with her mother and sister. I was touched by the tender relationship Disa has with her companion Anthony, and even the quiet conversations with her dog Tina. There’s no epiphany; no redemptive reconciliation, but though the reader takes this journey with Disa near the end of her life, regret does yield to hope. Highly recommended.
  AMQS | Oct 13, 2011 |
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0385720416, Paperback)

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

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:08:38 -0400)

(see all 3 descriptions)

Disa Jonsdottir has managed an inn for years with her companion, Anthony, in the English countryside. Compelled by the demands of time to revisit the village of her childhood, she departs England for her native Iceland. Along the way memories surface-of the rift between her and her mother, of the fate of her German-Jewish lover, of the trauma she experienced while working as a cook in a wealthy household. Skillfully weaving past and present, Olafsson builds toward an emotional climax that renders The Journey Home moving, suspenseful, and unforgettable.… (more)

(summary from another edition)

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