cover image Red Milk

Red Milk

Sjón, trans. from the Icelandic by Victoria Cribb. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $25 (160p) ISBN 978-0-374-60336-6

Sjón (CoDex 1962) offers up a chilling study of an Icelandic white supremacist. In 1958, Nazi sympathizer Gunnar Pálsson Kampen reaches out to leaders of fascist movements and political parties in the U.S., Great Britain, and Sweden, hoping to gain recognition for his fledgling, small-time Sovereign Power Movement. The reader knows from the first chapter, set in 1962, that Gunnar will be found dead on a train in Britain; in an afterword, Sjón claims he used the framing device to make his story more palatable (“It is easier to deal with a dead Nazi than a living one”). Gunnar grows up in a middle-class family with an abusive father who’s “afraid of Hitler.” As he grows, visitors and family members drop hints of their allegiance to white supremacist ideology. One such woman, wearing a swastika broach, holds his hand up to a table lamp and declares, “Only white people let the light into themselves!” The novel becomes epistolary midway through, revealing the deepening of Gunnar’s bigotry through letters written to a love interest, and Sjón keeps the brief story taut as he works his way back to Gunnar’s mysterious death. This illuminating tale makes for worthy companion to anti-fascist works by Hannah Arendt and Jean-Paul Sartre. (Jan.)