cover image On Time and Water

On Time and Water

Andri Snær Magnason, trans. from the Icelandic by Lytton Smith. Open Letter, $26 (360) ISBN 978-1-948830-23-2

Icelandic writer Magnason (Dreamland: A Self-Help Manual for a Frightened Nation) provides a literary look at the threat of climate change in this moving account. The only way to capture a problem as large as climate change in language, Magnason writes, “is to go past it, to the side, below it, into the past and the future, to be personal and also scientific and to use mythological language.” Magnason focuses on water, as glaciers melt and ocean levels rise, and argues against numbers-heavy explanations (messages relying on the pH scale, for instance, fail to “incite fear” about ocean acidification). His quest to understand how best to communicate the crisis includes two conversations with the Dalai Lama, whose resilience he finds inspirational. Magnason also finds hope in his uncle, whose career preserving crocodile populations proves to the author that one person can meaningfully “nudge” the world. A postscript ends inconclusively, with Magnason wondering what will be learned from “how global inaction caused immense suffering during the COVID crisis.” Still, Magnason’s empathetic rendering of changes that “surpass most of the language and metaphors we use to navigate our reality” makes an impact. Climate-concerned readers will find much to consider. (Mar.)