Tuesday, January 5, 2016
Review: THE PROPHETS OF ETERNAL FJORD, by Kim Leine
This is one of the strangest and most compelling books I've read in a while. I started it in December finished it on January 1, so it counts as my first book read in 2016. I really didn't want it to end.
The story is about Morten Falck, a priest and missionary in 1700s Greenland. The book opens with a startling death; a woman, "the widow," puts on her best clothes and goes to meet a fate she understands and accepts. We don't know exactly who delivers her to her fate. Then we jump back several years, to the end of Morten's education and the period just before his departure to Greenland, where he is to preach to the indigenous people there. The book jumps around in time more, and jumps between characters, and I needed to flip back and forth some to understand the narrative, but the pieces do come together eventually, in a disturbing but very coherent story.
I picked this book up more or less just to try it, for a book club I'm going to try later this month, and though it started slow it picked up quickly and I soon found myself lost in a very vivid world. Prophets reminds me of nothing so much as Margaret Atwood's Alias Grace, with its shifting rules and edgy mores- and its edgy and explicit sexual content. Leine has written a world that is very hard on women, and not easy on the priesthood either. Morten's greatest professional challenge is a breakaway cult that's formed on the outskirts of his village, Eternal Fjord, and taming or understanding its charismatic leaders. But his heart presents its own challenges, and he may not be able to conquer those.
I really enjoyed this book, maybe even loved it, but it's a tricky one to recommend. I would say it's immersive, character-driven and heavy on setting and description- you really feel like you're in the mix with Morten, eating what he's eating, living under the same conditions, smelling the wet wool of his clothing and feeling the lice in his hair. I would definitely encourage anyone whose interest has been piqued to give it a chance. I'm really glad I found it and will long remember it as one of the best things I read in 2015 and 2016.
FTC Disclosure: I did not receive this book for review.