Feðgar á ferð

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  • Kindle Edition
  • 166 pages
  • Feðgar á ferð
  • Heðin Brú
  • English
  • 05 February 2017

10 thoughts on “Feðgar á ferð

  1. says:

    What a strange reaction I'm having to this book.

    "Tragicomical" is the first word that comes to mind as I flail around for an explanation. If The Old Man and His Sons does anything, it makes the reader uncomfortable. I didn't know whether to laugh or cringe as I read the book. As I approached the end, I thought that my feelings might resolve themselves, but now, in the post-reading pondering, I'm still baffled. Was the novel supposed to elicit pity for the pathetic characters or some kind of quaint longing for a simpler life?

    While the setting of the work is important, for the sake of providing context, geography did little to influence the plot (such as it was) outside of the opening scene wherein the old man Ketil and his idiotic son Kalvur participate in a whale hunt. After the whale hunt, Ketil foolishly incurs debt for a large portion of whale meat.

    This indebtedness serves to accentuate the decline of traditional Faroese culture, as contrasted to the rise of more modern culture. A lack of skills, unwillingness to travel, and a deeply ingrained fear of public shame, all of which seem to be part and parcel of old Faroese culture, push Ketil, his wife, and Kalvur into a tighter and tighter economic pinch. It's a clear case of the poorer getting poorer, and while darkly comical, the "one step forward, two steps back" progression of the family's fortunes is painful to see.

    Now, I've never been in as bad a set of circumstances as this family, but I have known poverty and how difficult, seemingly impossible, at times, it is to climb out of the hole of deep indebtedness. Maybe that's why I couldn't enjoy the work as much as I would have liked, because it brought back memories of some times in my life that I'd like to forget. I suppose that if I had been raised on a silver spoon, as they say, I would have been rolling on the floor laughing watching these ignorant people fumble their way around in the dark, blinded by stubbornness and cultural assumptions that they don't even understand.

    The simple prose of the book reflects the simplicity of the characters. The slow, meandering plot reflects the unsteady and aimless trajectory of the lives of Ketil and his family. Even the subject matter of their dialogue is banal, focused on immediate gains and longer-term fears.

    Despite all of this, there is a certain sophistication of feeling that affects the reader. By seeing the characters so helpless and, frankly, stupid in their extremities, one feels something akin to pity, but a sort of pity wrapped in warmth. While I feel sorry for the characters, I don't grieve for them. And while I enjoy their well-meaning banter, I have to shake my head at their foolishness.

    This pull between emotions, though, is not extreme in either direction, leaving me a bit ambivalent about the book as a whole. It's "a good book, well written," as the saying goes, but lacked the punch that I had hoped I would find. Not a bad way to spend time reading, and maybe my opinion will change as I have more time to reflect on it. But for now, I'm left, like the old Faroese, aimless and wandering, searching for some kind of resolution.

  2. says:

    Over the New Year period some friends and I went to the Faroe Islands for a short holiday. These are a remote group of islands to the north of Scotland (although it’s an autonomous territory within the Kingdom of Denmark.) We wanted to go somewhere unique and remote. Often when I travel to new places I like to find translated literature from that location to read while I'm there. So I was delighted to discover “The Old Man and His Sons” which is a Faroese novel first published in 1940. The author grew up in a small village in the Faroes at a time when there was a generational shift from traditional self-contained living where people primarily sustained themselves to a more outward-looking market economy. The story reflects this transition following a few months in the life of Ketil and his wife, an older couple who live in a simple old dwelling. Their children have all grown and started families of their own except for their youngest son Kalvur who is regarded as simple-minded. The older couple find themselves financially strained when Ketil impulsively purchases a large quantity of whale meat at an auction. As the date they have to pay the bill grows near, they desperately try to find ways to earn extra money and bicker with their children who still sponge off from them.

    Read my full review of The Old Man and His Sons by Heðin Brú on LonesomeReader

  3. says:

    This book was too short, and over too soon! It took a long time to track down a book written in the Faroe Islands that had actually been translated into English. This was written in the 1940s, depicting a quickly fading "old way" of living as a Faroese Islander. Brutal whale hunt, brutal living, but debt-free!

    This is a simple story with memorable characters, but tends to drive home the message of the old ways having value and being disregarded a little too forcefully.

    Because the Faroe Islands are at the top of places I dream about visiting, I stopped every time a specific spot was mentioned and looked at pictures of it before moving on in the story. It became easy to picture, and easy to place, when you consider that the main characters think of Tórshavn as "the city," and haven't been since children. The Faroe Islands are not that big to begin with!

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  4. says:

    My review for Translation Thursday: THE OLD MAN AND HIS SONS by Heðin Brú (good luck pronouncing that one!) translated from Faroese (no really, it's a language).

    I'll leave the whole review on my blog http://tinyurl.com/jjxwkvk for a week or so.

  5. says:

    Heoin Bru's 'The Old Man And His Sons' is a beautiful, gripping chronicle of the daily struggle for survival on the Faroe Islands, a huddle of storm-ravaged specks of rock in the north Atlantic.

    First published in Faroese in 1940, the book was translated into English by New York publishers Eriksson in 1970, and has been unearthed and re-published this year, to their tremendous credit, by translation experts Telegram.

    Like the book itself, it's a venture worthy of great praise. This is a stunning and strangely comforting book, best read tucked up warm while the wind howls outside and a pot of whale meat blubbers away on the stove downstairs (okay, maybe not the last bit).

    It tells of the growing inter-generational conflicts between the elderly Ketil and his wife, and their sons and daughters-in-law - who have "been to Torshavn, and picked up daft notions" - and who resist the traditional fishing, scavenging and seabird-catching slog of their forebears.

    "I don't know how the world's got this way," bemoans Ketil's wife as she prepares to leave her home village for the first time in forty years to attend a funeral. "The older folk scraped and struggled every day, and tried to get good value out of every penny, and there was nothing to spare. You were reckoned to have done well if you gave every man his due. But now! The young folk spend their working days the whole year round in idle amusement. But they seem to get by somehow."

    The central plot strand of the novel pursues Ketil's struggle to repay a hefty debt accrued after the community's annual whale kill, which is regaled in all its bloody, frothy glory in the opening chapter.

    Ketil's stubborn pride does not permit debt, so, with the help of his last remaining home-bound son Kalv - who has preoccupations of his own with the daughter of the local con-man and sometime suicidal preacher -
    he sets out on a series of increasingly risky escapades to bring in the money before the District Sheriff seeks to settle his books.

    But it is the struggle - Faroese style - between change and tradition which forms the books' main narrative. When a storm threatens to blow the turf roof off Ketil's home, the old men of the village spend the whole night lying across it to prevent it being ripped away by the squalls.

    His sons are annoyed. "Are you running around after your roof again? Put corrugated iron on your roof and then we'll all get a bit of peace at night! Fancy having a damn roof that you have to sit and hold onto, every time there's a real use for it!"

    But the old men are unrepentant: '"For all that, a turf roof's the best roof," was the first thing they said when they had got warm again and recovered their powers of speech.'

    This is a beautiful book which recalls the savage glory of a simple life by now (we presume) long extinct. It's enough to send you out for a bracing cliff-top walk, to gaze at the sky-line and wonder how many other treasures those rugged north Atlantic rocks might still hold.

  6. says:

    It was hard to read this portrait of modernity encroaching on tradition in the Faroe Islands without recalling other, perhaps better known novels that have grappled with similar material (and happen to be among my own favorites). Not for long, though, because Heðin Brú's The Old Man And His Sons is very much its own book. Its fatalism bears a lighter touch than the bleakness of Halldór Laxness' Iceland, and is more down-to-earth than the religion and mysticism of George Mackay Brown's Orkney stories, and that lightness is reflected in the matter-of-fact style of its prose (as translated by John F. West).

    Though early on Brú sets up what seems to be a binary, generic critique of the younger generation by the older, he masterfully subverts that expectation as characters develop further and each generation—and more importantly, each person—reveals particular strengths and shortcomings. That's what ended up being really compelling in the novel: whereas Laxness, Brown, and others often frame the decline of tradition as the victimization of island life by larger systems and forces of history, technology, capitalism, etc., Brú leaves far more room for individual will: his characters are as capable of being hardworking and generous as they are of being lazy and selfish, and the conflicts or problems in the novel come from individual choices or actions far more often than vast unseen forces. Characters don't always have the same ideas about what being a good neighbor or islander means, but they are equally capable of aspiring to those qualities—or not—regardless of generation. So the conflict is a "gentler" one so to speak, if no less important (and no less high-stakes), so Brú's straightforward style and emphasis of ordinary if complex undertakings like fishing, funerals, and food preparation over more elaborate plotting are perfect for bringing that philosophical rather than polemical perspective to the fore.

  7. says:

    Opening - A school of blackfish is in Seyvrágs Fjord - two or three hundred small whales, swimming silently round in little groups, and longing to be backin the broad ocean again, for this is not the way they intended to go.

  8. says:

    Gives a brilliant, human and succinct insight into an obscure world: that of a family and community living in the transition out of one of the last subsistence economies of Western Europe, seventy years ago in the Faroe Islands. As a premise that sounds academic, but this book is as easy to follow and as eventful as a soap (an interesting and non-sensationalist one: more Archers than Corrie). The writer was born in the Faroes in 1901 and lived there all his life.

    The changing times are illustrated naturally as a part of life, as choices made by local people rather than things imposed from outside by corporations. The account of a whale-hunt which kicks off the story somehow makes it evident that for these people, a practice most of us only know as a barbaric occurrence mentioned periodically in the news, was the local equivalent of strategically hunting a herd of wildebeest or woolly mammoth in other places and times. The hunt sounds ostensibly primitive - but some hunters with injuries or broken spears ask the local authority for compensation afterwards and the meat is distributed by an organised ticketing system: the movement towards the organised Nordic political model is underway.

    There is a fascinating co-existence of the older generation's sparse turf-rooved wooden houses where hens are kept in the living room and there are holes in the roof for smoke to escape, alongside their daughters-in law's homes full of items bought from shops on the proceeds of employment in commercial fishing.
    It's as if history has jumped hundreds of years in one generation, at least when seen through British eyes.

    This is a story about a particular time and place in history - but it's also one that is very pertinent now: that of a man trying to do, make and sell whatever he can to pay off a big debt and avoid losing the roof over his head, and all the strokes of luck and setbacks that happen along the way.

    "The Old Man..." often seems to be compared to works by Halldor Laxness and George Mackay Brown - books I own but have not yet read. One of the advantages this book has over those longer works is its brevity: the story is balanced in its structure, and can immerse you in another previously unknown world, despite having only 160 very readable pages.

  9. says:

    This was one of those books that leapt out of the huge list of the books people had already found for their own Around the World list. Scrolling down the page: Estonia, Ethiopia, Equatorial Guinea, Faroe Islands, Fiji…. Hold on what? The Faroes? There are books written about or in the Faroes? I have to read it!

    So on I went, and ordered the book and it arrived in the giant shopping spree of parcels I had delivered to work (the postman was very grateful I was solely keeping him in a job). And then it sat patiently waiting until I managed to get to it.

    I will state first of all, this is one of the nicest covers on any of the books I own. It’s gorgeous. I frequently took it off the shelf over the last 9 months just to look at it. Not only I think this, but Lexx in his grumpy, judging, Graphic Designer way even said it was a really nice cover. Get it for the cover. Make it a coffee table book. It’s pretty!

    Story wise though, I didn’t love it. It was another story of a country fighting with modernisation and the problems with loosing ones own culture while developing as a country. And that is sad. It must have been heartbreaking for these old Faroe people to see their children doing what they deemed as rejecting their heritage and culture. I am sympathetic to that. I think it is important while developing and modernising to still keep your identity and culture in check. Those are the things that make you and your country different and interesting. For example, while not the same in any way shape or form, it annoys me that Aus is getting more and more Americanised. So I am sure these people felt this annoyance and then sadness a thousand times more than my feelings.

    However, I feel that if their children, all of them, are that big a jerks that they insinuate, then maybe, just maybe, they may need to work on their parenting skills. They just went on and on about how ungrateful, and rude, and horrible, and whatnot their children were. And how their grandchildren were always begging from them. Well maybe, one of the reasons ALL of your MANY children are horrible may come down to the common factor with all those children? And you can say “No! Go home!” to your grandchildren once in a while. I couldn’t sympathise with that. It bugged me.

    But as much as that annoyed me, this did not even compare to the son who was still living at home, Kálvur. Dear god I wanted to slap him upside his face and tell him to get the hell over himself. He was a complete and utter drip. 24ish years old and crying all the time because things were scary. Seriously boy! Grow a pair! Living at home (in a 2 room house) with his parents, and then lying in his bed yelling at his mum to bring him food because he couldn’t be bother getting up. Then getting pissed off as she wasn't there as she had gone out. Once. Ever. I’d tell you what would happen if I ever tried that with my Mum, there is very little chance I would still be here writing this.

    Whinging aside, both mine and sniveling boy’s, the book was very well written. I wanted to keep reading it, even though I found the people not overly engaging. The way of storytelling was, and the culture and customs were intriguing. And it was only a short book, so you knew that even though the snotty-nosed boy was crying again, you only had another 50 pages with him.

    The whale hunt at the beginning of the book, and the premise for the whole book was really interesting and eye opening. I had always thought that if people could hunt whales traditionally with a spear and a wooden boat, good on them. I had the idea that these cultures only kill as much as they need, therefore being much more sustainable than the horrible commercial whaling that has just started up in the oceans below me as we speak.

    This book changed that way of thinking though. It was so real and evocative. I was so upset for the whales, and I am not sure if I was supposed to be. I have a feeling that is a product of reading the book with my background and in my time. 70 years ago I may have identified with the hunters more, been on their side. Not now, I was so drawn in to the book, hoping a whale would get away or take someone with them. It almost made me cry this hunt.

    Also there wasn’t that idea of sustainability I thought went with it. They killed as much as they possibly could, which allowed Ketil to get into the mess he did by accidentally buying some obscene tonnage of whale meat. It really opened my eyes.

    So with saga-esq storytelling, a rare insight for me into the lives of another place in the North and Norwegian Seas, another story of the struggle of traditional vs modern ways of living, and an eye opening account of traditional hunting methods, that I will admit has changed my thinking immensely, I felt outweighed the frustration with annoying characters. One day, one day I will read a book with characters I like. Or I’ve just become a cantankerous old lady who hates everyone already… oh dear…

  10. says:

    When he was outside, he brushed away a tear from his cheek. "Young people these days have such strange ways. I just don't know where I stand."

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