cover image Animal Life

Animal Life

Audur Ava Ólafsdóttir, trans from the Icelandic by Brian Fitzgibbon. Black Cat, $17 trade paper (192p) ISBN 978-0-8021-6016-4

In the quiet and meditative latest from Ólafsdóttir (Miss Iceland), a midwife reflects on life and death. Dómhildur is the fourth in a maternal line of midwives, while her paternal ancestors have been undertakers. As Christmas approaches and the long Icelandic winter rages, she spends time in the apartment she has inherited from her namesake great-aunt, going through the late Dómhildur’s letters and other writings on the nature of the humanity, offering accounts of people at their weakest, most joyous, and most devastated. Meanwhile, Dómhildur’s meteorologist sister warns her about an unprecedented storm that’s on the way, and a hapless Australian tourist renting an upstairs neighbor’s apartment plies Dómhildur with questions about the weather and where he should go. Ólafsdóttir is at her best when sharing the histories of midwives—in Icelandic, the word is made up of the words for “mother” and light”—who traverse a landscape of “bottomless eternal blackness” in attempts to perform their work, often arriving to find a newborn dead, “because the weather doesn’t always bend to the requirements of a woman in need.” Nothing much happens, but only in the way that one could say nothing much happens on any given day, the rhythms of which the author captures perfectly. The result is a rich slice of life. (Dec.)