cover image The Swan

The Swan

Gudbergur Bergsson, Gubergur. Mare's Nest, $19.95 (152pp) ISBN 978-1-899197-35-4

Magical realist influences warm this contemporary Icelandic tale of a nine-year-old girl ""apprehended twice for having stolen sandwiches from eight shops,"" who is sent from her coastal town to the countryside as probation for her crimes. Expected to ""work for her keep,"" the unnamed, melancholy child travels to Fludasel, a tiny hamlet whose occupants keep an eye on each other through telescopes. There she is met by the kindly farming couple whose house she is to share. Also at the farm is a daughter, pregnant and home from university, and a gentle, taciturn farmhand who carries on something of a love affair with the uncomprehending little girl. Caught between ancient traditions and new technology and ""drawn to the ecstasy fright can bring,"" she empathizes with the farm animals, particularly the thoroughbred horses Iceland is famous for, and eventually has an epiphany that helps her come to terms with the ""vast hopelessness that was the main thing this little nation had cultivated in its little land."" A translator who has studied and lived in Spain, Bergsson is known in his homeland for his translations of Gabriel Garcia Marquez, and the debt to Garcia Marquez is clear in this sparsely sensual, idyllic fable of country matters. (Mar.) FYI: The Swan won the 1991 Icelandic Literary Prize.