cover image The Journey Home

The Journey Home

Olaf Olafsson. Pantheon Books, $24 (304pp) ISBN 978-0-375-42061-0

The cool undercurrents of history shiver the surface of this serene fiction set in England and Iceland after WWII. Twenty years after the war, Icelandic migr Adisa (""Disa"") Jonsdottir is a successful, Elizabeth Davidesque restaurateur, manager of Ditton Hall, an English stately home transformed into a hotel. She lives with Anthony, the local squire, in a common-law arrangement and has assembled a staff suited to her perfectionist, willful character. Into her impeccably choreographed life comes the sudden news that she is terminally ill; knowing she may have less than a year left to live, she sets out to visit Iceland one last time. On her travels, a series of flashbacks bring memories of her childhood in Iceland and her early culinary training in prewar London. Buried deepest in her heart is the fate of her Jewish lover, Jakob, who returns to Germany from London in 1938 to try to rescue his parents. Alone, Disa goes home to Iceland and its quasi-racist politics, where she signs on as a cook for the well-to-do Haraldssons, whose troubled adult son has recently returned from Germany under a cloud. Olafsson (Absolution) writes in a spare but moving English, though sometimes Disa describes her recipes with more richness than the characters in her lives. Perhaps too reminiscent of Kazuo Ishiguro's butler in Remains of the Day, Disa weaves her own spell in Olafsson's accomplished novel, saving the tale from melodrama with her calm self-possession. Agent, Gloria Loomis. (Nov.)