cover image Your Absence Is Darkness

Your Absence Is Darkness

Jón Kalman Stefánsson, trans. from the Icelandic by Philip Roughton. Biblioasis, $18.95 trade paper (456p) ISBN 978-1-77196-581-1

Stefánsson (Summer Light, and Then Comes the Night) delivers an astonishing, free-wheeling narrative of an amnesiac’s search for meaning. It begins with the unnamed narrator’s arrival at a church somewhere in the Westfjords of Iceland, where the sorrow he feels over his inability to remember is exacerbated by the advice he receives from a man he mistakes for a priest: “Keep in mind that sometimes life is the questions, death the answer.” Outside the church, the narrator encounters a woman with a sheep in tow, which she believes is her dog. The narrator’s spirits lift when the woman seems to recognize him. Their encounter sets the stage for a serpentine and splintered set of stories covering several generations, beginning with the woman’s wondrous account of her late mother, who breaks off her wedding engagement with a fellow Reykvíkingur after the two have car trouble and she falls for the young farmer who comes to their aid. What makes this so irresistible is the narrator’s constant optimism as he probes profound questions from within the murk of his consciousness (“Give me darkness, and then I’ll know where the light is”). Stefánsson is poised to make his mark on the world stage. (Mar.)