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The Magic Mountain
Thomas Mann, John E. Woods
The Hooligan's Return: A Memoir
Norman Manea, Angela Jianu
Jar City - Arnaldur Indriðason, Bernard Scudder I've taken an interest to Iceland ever since I read Halldór Laxness. Seeing there are a few Icelandic authors in translation - or maybe they are indeed just a few - I wanted to explore this country through the detective novels of Arnaldur Indriðason, as well. Luckily, he gives some interesting insights into the social aspect of Icelandic people. Well, more like the criminality aspect, through phrases such as:
Icelandic murders aren't complicated.
Icelandic judges were notoriously lenient.
Icelandic murderers generally don’t leave anything behind but a mess.

My Gr friend Linda has been to Iceland and she told me that this is considered one of the safest countries in the world. This baffled me, so I've read more about it and came upon an interesting BBC article: an US law student went to Iceland to study the reason behind the low criminality rate. In a country where almost one person out of three owns a gun, the few crimes that occur don't usually involve firearms. Hmm, strange. Give one angry American a gun and he'll know what to do with it! Even Police members are unarmed, the only officers permitted to carry firearms are on a special force called the Viking Squad, and they are seldom called out.
I'm really fascinated now.

//en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Beaumont_Children">Beaumont children cold case in Australia, which greatly influenced Australian society in that a lot of people who left their children unattended, believing their country was safe, improved their supervision. I hope this never happens in Iceland, which should remain like it is, a happy and miraculous exception.

But what are the reasons behind this amazing fact? It seems that Iceland's social welfare and education systems promote an egalitarian culture and there is virtually no difference among upper, middle and lower classes. It looks like Icelandic people managed to put in practice the teachings of Prophet Mani.
A study of the Icelandic class system done by a University of Missouri master's student found only 1.1% of participants identified themselves as upper class, while 1.5% saw themselves as lower class. The remaining 97% identified themselves as upper-middle class, lower-middle class, or working class.

On another web-site, the question "How Safe is Reykjavik, Iceland?" is answered with Crime in Reykjavik is basically non-existent, even petty thieves are only rarely seen. The only area in Reykjavik that a single female may not want to visit late at night is Austurvöllur Park - and that's only because it's a popular place for winos, who like to keep to themselves anyway. Ha ha, not even wankers or exhibitionists - I guess it's too cold for that!

I'm sorry this is not actually a review, but I've found all this information fascinating and I wanted to share it with you. Inspector Erlendur deals with a crime that defies the Icelandic tradition, in that it's not simple and careless, but puzzling and brain-racking. The criminal leaves a note behind (we don't find out what it says until the middle of the book). Were it not for the presence of another layer to the story - about the detective's personal life - this novel would get 4 stars from me. It was much better than [b:Silence of the Grave, because it dealt more with the actual investigation (which was also much more interesting) and less with domestic drama. The atmosphere is bleak, it rains without ever seeming to stop, and Erlendur has family issues, mainly with his daughter, who is a drug addict. Reading the novel, I've got under the impression that there is a serious issue with drugs in Iceland, but further info showed that it is not the case. I guess Indriðason wanted to place his inspector in the worst living conditions, which seems to me a bit too forced. In [b:Silence of the Grave|82991|Silence of the Grave|Arnaldur Indriðason|http://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/books/1316131788s/82991.jpg|80125] we find out about more tragedies in his life, which makes me wonder if every book in the series brings additional misfortune to Erlendur, poor man.

Two other interesting facts in the novel:

1. Icelanders eat boiled sheep's head, which I find to be gross. I won't post a picture, no, no. It is a traditional dish called Svið, which originated in harsh times when people started to use every part of a slaughtered animal. Here's a funny account of eating such dish:

Never did I expect to taste such a barbaric dish as a sheep's head. But a decade later there it was on my plate, looking up at me with a sorrowful glaze in its eyes. I pulled the jaw apart and stabbed a clump of meat with my fork. When in Iceland... And it wasn't bad. Really. The cheek, where most of the meat is found, was tender and rather tasty. Dipped in a little rhubarb jelly, it was even better. Just beware of the eyes. Those baby blues are considered a delicacy. Well, really, it's the entire eye socket that some Icelanders find so appetizing, with or without the actual eyeball included. So plop that hunk of meat into your mouth and try to think about something else. Anything else. - Lara Weber, Chicago Tribune

2. Indriðason talks in his novel about a Genetic Research Centre, which actually has a base in reality. In such a centre would be gathered medical data about all the Icelanders, linked with a genealogy database in which the family of every single Icelander would be traced back to the Middle Ages.

They called it establishing the Icelandic genetic pool. The main aim was to discover how hereditary illnesses were transmitted, study them genetically and find ways to cure them, and other diseases if possible. It was said that the homogenous nation and lack of miscegenation made Iceland a living laboratory for genetic research. - Arnaldur Indriðason