Originally published: 10 January 2019
Author: Thora Karitas Arnadottir
Published by: Wild Pressed Books
Genre: Creative Non-Fiction
Length: 133 pages
Reading dates: 13-15 November 2018
Guðbjörg Þórisdóttir has been hiding from the ghost of an ugly secret for most of her life. When she finally faces the truth of what happened throughout her childhood, the ghost floats away. Painting an evocative picture of her life in Iceland, this is the story of a little girl who didn’t know how unnatural it was to experience both heaven and hell in the same house.
Written by Guðbjörg Þórisdóttir’s daughter, this is the story of her childhood where she lived with her grandparents, parents and extended family in a house known as Mörk. But for many years she kept a terrible secret – she was being sexually abused by her grandfather, starting when she was just a toddler. She remembers being 3 when she told her mother that Grandpa kissed her in “a different way” to everyone else yet nothing was done about this. At the age of 5, her mother discovered her being molested by her Grandfather, but as Guðbjörg would not tell her mother what had been happening, her mother did nothing and the abuse went on. I found this very difficult to deal with – the thought of a loving mother choosing to ignore the abuse of her daughter. Later in the book, we hear how she has developed a urinary infection from her grandfather’s dirty hands. She kept the abuse secret for many years, telling her daughter the shocking truth when she was 23.
I thought the style of this book was interesting. Guðbjörg Þórisdóttir always felt she had a book in her but was never able to write down what had happened to her. Her daughter decided to write the story for her, using interviews with her mother and other family members, and wrote the book by melding her own voice together with her mother’s to tell the story. The descriptions of life for her mother as a child in Iceland were engaging and I got the impression that she came from a loving and close family. There are descriptions of supernatural and physic happenings which I also found interesting.
This is a translation from the original Icelandic version, and in the editing the publishers have tried to keep an Icelandic feel to the voice and the way of expressing things, which may feel slightly odd to the English reader.
Overall I found this a memorable read – it is a short book and although the subject matter isn’t pleasant, the overall message is one of survival and strength. Although it took Guðbjörg many years to speak out and seek help for the trauma and distress she felt, she went on to marry, have children and become a teacher.
Thank you to Anne Cater and Wild Pressed Books for inviting me to be on the Blog Tour. To hear about the book from Thora take a look at Emma the Little Bookworm
About the author:
Thora Karitas Arnadottir (b. 1979) studied drama in the UK, and is a producer as well as appearing on stage and television. She is best known for the award winning TV series, Astridur, in her home country and for hosting Unique Iceland, a highly popular travel magazine show about Iceland. And the Swans Began to Sing is her first published book; her mother’s story, and formed the final dissertation for her MA in Creative Writing. The book was nominated for the Icelandic Women’s Literary prize Fjoruverdlaunin in 2016. Thora is currently working on her first novel, which will be released in Iceland in 2019