The Friends of Freeland

Brad Leithauser, Author
Brad Leithauser, Author Alfred A. Knopf $26 (528p) ISBN 978-0-679-45083-2
Paperback - 528 pages - 978-0-679-77270-5
Open Ebook - 390 pages - 978-0-307-76078-4
Open Ebook - 1 pages - 978-1-299-02413-7
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Two wildly idealistic main characters--Eggert Oddason and Hannibal Hannibalsson--propel this grand, sprawling, satiric novel (Leithauser's fourth, after Seaward). Eggert and Hannibal are, respectively, the ad hoc minister of culture and the president of the imaginary nation of Freeland, a lava-crusted, storm-lashed cluster of islands located between Greenland and Iceland (""what green is to Ireland, gray is to Freeland""). Rivals as schoolboys, the two now tilt their lances at the same windmill, namely the creeping modernization that threatens to reduce their fellow citizens from a nation of proudly self-sufficient Norsemen to a gaggle of Walkman-wearing milksops. As Hannibal tells his countrymen, Freeland is ""the one true good hope of this troubled planet"" where ""madness reigns, ever more brutal wars are waged, and ever more destructive forms of leisure are conceived."" To preserve their country's purity, the duo has tried everything from a ban on frozen waffles to strict quotas on American pop music, but time, and the patience of the electorate, is running out. Matters come to a head as an election looms between the aging Hannibal and the bland, modernizing Nonni Karlsson. But this novel's appeal lies mostly in the pleasure of watching Leithauser's extraordinarily rich imagination at play as he conjures an entire people out of the frigid waters of the North Atlantic, ranging from the furtive narrator Eggert to the handsome, larger-than-life Hannibal, who ""in his straight-shouldered, red-gold-haired, strong-jawed splendidness... is as perfect a Viking as ever navigated by instinct up a rocky, fog-clamped fjord."" Leithauser's is not a subtle portrait; nor is his prose always for the fainthearted. But the novel is such good, catty, generously proportioned fun that the persevering reader will be more than inclined to forgive its missteps. (Jan.)
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