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on September 9, 1997
Johnathan, a graduate anthropology student, undertakes a new life on the remote Faroes--a near arctic archipelago southeast of Iceland. In this culturally alien setting, he cuts his teeth on myriad folk encounters, from supernatural to prosaic. Besieged by interminable frustration, he slowly learns--at the pace of continental drift--to accept life as it comes. Johnathan's foibles strike universal chords, thus transporting us into his story. Plus, he's great to laugh at. Never satisfied, he worries himself silly.
Kaysen's lucid style telescoped me into Johnathan's vivid psychological world, and delighted me many times over with a smorgasbord of delicious surprises. I only give it a nine because I just finished; I need time to fully digest its substantial rewards before I could say that it's perfect. But, it may very well be
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on September 8, 2004
OK, so Jonathan is 25 and should already have come of age, but as the only child of 2 professors, he has led the privileged, sheltered Eastern private-school life. So to watch him progress from emotionally detached, hyper-self-critical, pizza-eating Bostonite to a better self (you read the novel - let's just say there is whale blubber instead of pizza) over the course of his year on the Faroe Islands is a joy. A wonderful setting, humor, a great cast of characters, superb writing and an unforgetable young man in a book that I wish had a sequel.
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on January 13, 2005
Even though there are a couple of minor factual errors in the book I really enjoyed reading about my country and my neighbour village with the eyes of Jonathan. To me this is an important piece of history. Of course there are books in Faroese language describing this period (late 60's early 70's) - but this visitors' viewpoint really pinpoints the very soul of this tiny population. And by the way - Jonathan is not fictional. There really was an american by that name living in Skopun at that time. I know - he is not forgotten by his fellow villagers.
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on September 15, 2004
Jonathan sets forth from academia to apply his anthropological skills to the folks ways of the Faroe Islands. What ensues can best be described by the phrase "a duck out of water". Jonathan, who from the heights of his greater learning expects to note and judge "folk" behavior, survives his time in the field only because the good folks of the Islands take pity on him and take care of him - a fact to which he remains oblivious to the day he leaves. The writer approaches her subject with great wit and underlying compassion. When my book group read this book, it received a widely varied reaction. A year later, they still talk of this book and those who initially did not care for it find themselves more and more under it's spell. What is talked about a year later? The food (puffins and other delicacies). Fresh meat and sheep in the kitchen. The horrors of "stirring". A growing taste for Aqua Vit. The Danish girl. Definitely a book to read. You will never ever forget the Faroe Islands
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on January 31, 1997
The jacket blurbs promise a humorous look at Jonathan's year-long anthropological research visit to the Faroe Islands. Indeed, the reader will often laugh out loud! Especially when Jonathan finds himself the subject of study, instead of the examiner. What is unexpected are Kaysen's lucent and moving explorations of Jonathan's mental and emotional states-- the pain of self realization and of growing up; the discombobulation of being thrust into a new world. The writing skillfully weaves very down-to-earth narrative with more spiritual musings. Unforgettable is Kaysen's stunning description of the Aurora Borealis, as well as the visceral emotion of the whalehunt
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on July 9, 2009
I am putting this novel on my list of recommended reading for everyone who attends my seminars on intercultural competence and communication, not because of the locale, but because it so beautifully describes the condition of CULTURE SHOCK, which is universal to anyone who has ever taken up residence away from "home".
Besides that, (imho) the book is beautifully written, with passages that bear reading over and over because of their juicy descriptiveness. I don't think I will ever visit the Faroe Islands in person, but I can now say that I have definitely been there in my mind. Fabulous read!
Susan Hoppe/ expat in Aachen Germany
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on March 1, 2012
I have just re-read this book for the third time. I really do love this book. It caused me to learn about the Faroe islands and to want to visit them. The book enters into the minutiae of the heros daily life. What he eats, where he goes for walks, how often he thinks about sex (not too explicit). It also describes the angst of a shy young man in a very foreign culture. I love the moments where he starts to be accepted and also think his total lack of confidence in himself is very revealing. It is also about him realising tht the people on these islands do things to survive through the winter, like killing sheep and eating blood sausage.
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on May 10, 2000
This is the sort of book where the exotic locale is the novel's sole strength. Few people have heard of the Faeroe Islands (a Danish possession north of Scotland), but those with an interest might enjoy this fictitious tale of an American anthropologist. The Faeroes are one of Europe's remotest corners, where people still pursue such customs as killing whales, eating sheep eyeballs, and (most shocking) slowly killing the household cat as an appeasement to the gods. The characterizations and the plot are too thin to sustain this novel; if it were set in (for instance) Maine, no one would ever give it a second look. The love-story-subplot is especially disappointing, consisting of the lead character obsessing over an airline clerk who is not equally interested in him, but who appears to be the only available woman in the country -- or at least that's the impression the reader is left with. Nevertheless, for those fascinated by remote Scandinavian locales, this in-depth look at Faroese life might be worth a read.
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on January 19, 2016
I read this book mostly because it was about the Faroe Islands and only secondarily because it was by the author of Girl, Interrupted. I loved the setting and while I agree that it would not have been as interesting if set in Maine, the fact is that it wasn't set in Maine....it was set in the Faroe's:). A lot of the drama and comedy arise from a city slicker's exposure to countryfolk and how they live with animals, and that's a topic I always find interesting. So this is not the greatest psychological novel ever, nor the most dramatic, but if you want a sensitive, humorous treatment of what it would be like to live in a small Scandinavian Island community for a year, then this is your book.
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on December 12, 2015
Characters well developed. Plot starts a little slow, then grabs you and pulls you in. Don't want to reveal the plot by writing too much but if you liked her later books - read this.
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