cover image Absolution


Olaf Olafsson. Pantheon Books, $20 (259pp) ISBN 978-0-679-42891-6

A popular writer in Iceland, Olafsson makes his English language debut in this sensitive, resonant, if imperfect, study of guilt, jealousy and betrayal. Peter Peterson, an Icelandic emigre and wealthy retired New York businessman, obsesses over a crime of passion he committed half a century before in Nazi-occupied Denmark. Spurned by a young Icelandic woman, he falsely accused her boyfriend of betraying the resistance movement to the Nazis. Now the aged Peterson is a cynical, fulminating recluse, his only companion a refugee Cambodian housemaid whom he clumsily attempts to seduce. Through flashbacks and reminiscences, we learn of his two failed marriages, his refusal to visit his ex-wife on her deathbed, his obsession with money and cruel contempt for his devoted son Helgi. Originally published in Iceland in 1991, this novel suffers from a protagonist who is so dislikable that one tends to lose interest in his melancholy, evasive monologue. Olafsson, president of Sony Electronic Publishing in New York, lamely frames the main narrative with commentary by a compatriot who is asked to translate the manuscript on Peterson's death and ends up identifying with him. A surprise ending puts Peterson's guilty self-recrimination in an ironic light. (Mar.)