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Tuesday, February 19, 2013

The Arctic Chill


“‘How awful, the sixty-five year old widow said with a sigh, ‘this happening in our flats! I just don’t know what the world’s coming to.’” The ‘this’ was the fatal stabbing of a ten year old half Thai half Icelandic boy after school on a frigid day in January. Two too familiar themes: racial prejudice towards immigrants and children being murdered is how Arnaldur Indriðason's Arctic Chill begins. These incidents are relatively new to Iceland. Iceland has been an insular culture and society. Now the world is learning more about it and visiting it and immigrating there. Multiculturalism has come to Iceland.
“‘This is all new to us. Immigrants, racial issues…we know so little about it, ‘ Erlendur said eventually.” Indriðason is taking on a couple of very new issues for Iceland as we must remember geneticists use Iceland in their study of genes.  As has also been pointed out the killing of a child is alien to Iceland too. It seems Indriðason is addressing some issues the world has been dealing with all too much regularity and Iceland, a new, young, and still developing nation has entered into these human numbing issues.
As I am reading this novel, I’m reminded of the number of Asian visitors I met while in Iceland during my last trip in December. The issues of multiculturalism is finally coming to Iceland after nearly a thousand years and Indriðason is bravely tackling the issues and using this novel to confront racism and how it must be confronted in Iceland.  This is a brave novel.
Woven behind this tragedy is another one that we get glimpses of. The case of a missing woman is in the middle of its course when the ten year old is found stabbed to death. The missing woman may be alive, may be dead, and is the third wife of a man Erlendur doesn’t like nor do his exes. Is she calling him and leaving cryptic messages and then hanging up? As always Erlendur is haunted by his dead brother, his son, and his daughter, the latter two probing to know more about their uncle. A little more is being revealed. There is the interaction with his former boss, Marion, in hospital waiting to die. The only bright spot for Erlendur in this other wise dismal Icelandic winter is Valgerdur.
The word ‘boring’ reared its ugly head during my last years of teaching. The word was used by so many students it became trite. Everything was boring to them, not just school, but life. It reeked of apathy to me and caused so many idiotic things to happen in the name of boredom. Boredom reared its ugly head in The Arctic Chill in an all too chilling manner. As a retired teacher this novel was personal and struck home.
Caveat: It may be ironic with the multicultural aspect of this novel, but an American editor should have been used to fix some of the glaring ‘cultural’ errors.

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