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The Tricking of Freya: A Novel Kindle Edition

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Length: 349 pages Word Wise: Enabled Enhanced Typesetting: Enabled

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Sunley's debut novel is an intricate family travelogue, based in the present of Icelandic-Canadian life and the half-mythical world of her grandparents' Iceland. Sunley gives narrative reins to the granddaughter of a famous Icelandic poet, young Freya, whose memoir begins with the summer she first meets her mom's family in the Icelandic-Canadian village of Gimli. The bitter tension Freya discovers between her sensible mother and her unpredictable aunt goes deeper than personality differences, apparently tied to Aunt Birdie's role as family history keeper, her insistence that the children learn their Icelandic heritage, Norse mythology and language: Icelandic words are tricksters. Acrobats. Masters of disguise. Shape-shifters. Equally capricious are Sunley's characters who, over 20 years of family storms and mental illnesses, pull Freya across the globe, landing her more than once in beautiful, beguiling Iceland itself. This grand coming-of-age-novel boasts a dynamic set of characters and a rich bank of cultural and personal lore, making this dark, cold family tale a surprisingly lush experience. (Mar.)
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From Booklist

High-spirited and precocious Freya is the only child of her late-in-life, widowed mother, who waits until Freya is a coltish seven to finally return to Manitoba, Canada, to visit her mother and her sister, wild and beautiful Birdie. Freya’s grandfather was a revered poet, and her family is proud of their Icelandic heritage, especially Birdie, who insists that her niece learn Icelandic and memorize the ancient sagas, a mission that turns disastrous. Freya tells the story of her strange, nearly catastrophic girlhood years later, an act that liberates her from a lonely and smothering life. This wounded daughter of a land of the midnight sun recounts a journey to Iceland as dramatic, dangerous, and mysterious as any ancient epic adventure, and retraces her ardent quest for the truth about a staggering family secret. Steeped in the highly symbolic mythology, complex language, and otherworldly landscape of Iceland, and the little-known story of the nineteenth-century Icelandic diaspora, Sunley’s astonishingly accomplished debut is a bewitching tale of volcanic emotions, cultural inheritance, family sorrows, mental illness, and life-altering discoveries. --Donna Seaman

Product Details

  • File Size: 873 KB
  • Print Length: 349 pages
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press (March 3, 2009)
  • Publication Date: March 3, 2009
  • Sold by: Macmillan
  • Language: English
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Enabled
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Enhanced Typesetting: Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #498,398 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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More About the Author

Q&A with Christina Sunley

Q: What inspired you to write The Tricking of Freya?

A: The short answer is a single image that has haunted me all my life: a young boy wakes up one morning to a sky so black he cannot see his hand in front of his face.

The boy was my grandfather, the morning was in April, 1875, and the volcano Askja had just erupted in a remote region of northeast Iceland, hurling ash so furiously it obliterated the sun for days. The ashfall covered a vast area -- killing off all vegetation and livestock -- a final blow for an already impoverished people struggling under colonial oppression. A year later, my grandfather and his family, along with thousands of others, left for Canada, to escape their lives of hardship and join a "New Iceland" settlement on the shores of Lake Winnipeg.

Q: The book's narrator, Freya, spends the summers of her childhood in Gimli, an Icelandic fishing village in Canada, as well as time in Iceland. Were these parts of the book based on your own life experiences?

A: Actually, I'd never been to either Gimli or Iceland until I started researching the book. And I didn't have any relatives myself growing up, like Freya does -- no aunts or uncles, grandparents, cousins. In The Tricking of Freya I invented the extended family I never had, and then lived with them for years, in my imagination. So the book isn't autobiographical in a direct sense.

But indirectly it is. When I was growing up on Long Island, my mother was always telling me stories about the lives of "our people" and her childhood in the West End, Winnipeg's Icelandic enclave. So in that sense, the book is intimately connected with my family history and who I am.

Q: Freya's mother and her aunt Birdie argue about whether Freya, an American girl growing up in Connecticut, should be taught Icelandic or not. In some ways, The Tricking of Freya is a classic story about the cultural conflicts that arise in immigrant families, the tensions between preservation and assimilation.

A: That's true, and in Freya's case, it becomes further complicated when she experiences a series of tragedies, including the suicide of her beloved aunt Birdie. For Freya, the only way to survive emotionally into adulthood is to turn her back on the past -- which also means the Icelandic cultural inheritance her aunt tried so hard to pass on to her.

Often we have to block out personal memories that are painful or traumatic, only to find that later in life we're compelled to revisit them. In Freya's case, coming to terms with the past doesn't just mean things that happened in her own life, but events and traditions going way back in time in Iceland. I'm a firm believer that we're influenced by our ancestors, even the ones we've never heard of.

Q: When Freya grows up, her grandmother wants to pass on to her the "Blue Book," a family genealogy that stretches back to the settlement of Iceland. To many of us, having so much family history at your fingertips seems astonishing.

A: Icelanders have a cultural obsession with documenting genealogy and family history -- perhaps not surprising for an isolated island nation of just 300,000 people. On my first trip to Iceland, a genealogist produced for me a computer printout connecting me back -- generation by generation -- to the ninth century.

In contrast, many Americans know very little of their family history, sometimes not even where their own grandparents were born. That may be because families moved around and lost track, or in some cases, the family history was obliterated -- by the Holocaust, or slavery, or the genocide and displacement of Native peoples. So I feel very privileged to have access to so much family history, which has deeply enriched my sense of self.

Q: How did you go about researching The Tricking of Freya?

A: Actually, I started researching the book long before I knew I was going to write it. My mother had started sending me all the family documents -- letters, photos, memoirs -- along with her copies of the sagas, eddas, and histories of Iceland. Soon I was utterly immersed, and eventually I became convinced there had to be a novel in it all.

One day - courtesy of my mother, of course -- a huge 800 page book arrived at my house: Icelandic River Saga, by the local historian and genealogist Nelson Gerrard. It was a highly detailed account of all the settlers who had populated "New Iceland" in Canada, including my grandfather's family. I poured through that book for several years, returning to it again and again.

But my research wasn't all through books. I traveled to Winnipeg and Gimli, interviewing old timers, visiting the libraries and the old historic sites. I also made three research trips to Iceland, where I met and stayed with distant relatives who were incredibly welcoming and generous.

Q: What was your most unusual experience in researching the book?

A: Just visiting Iceland itself is an unusual experience. In the course of my travels, I trekked through lava fields, rode on a snowmobile across a glacier, and took a boat trip on a glacial lagoon.

I think the highpoint was the month I spent as a writer-in-residence at Klaustrið (The Monastery), living alone in a stone farmhouse bequeathed by one of Iceland's most famous writers. It was just downstream from where my grandfather had been raised. I arrived at the beginning of May in the middle of a tremendous blizzard. It was so stormy most of the time I could hardly venture outside without getting blown over. There was nothing to do but write. I got more writing done in that one month than I had in the whole previous year.

Q: How long did it take you to write the book?

A: It was truly a saga! I wrote the book over a period of about eight years, in several incarnations, with various narrators and points of view. But I can't say I actually spent eight years writing it, because I was working in the software industry much of that time, trying to fit the book in on the side. Finally, I quit my full-time job, cashed out my 401K, and started having larger blocks of time to write. That was a big risk, obviously, and so was the debt I incurred from my three trips to Iceland, but I'd become really driven to finish, whatever the cost.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

21 of 21 people found the following review helpful By A. Sullivan VINE VOICE on February 16, 2009
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
If, by chance, you are interested in Iceland then this book will reach out, grab your heart and keep your interest for hours. A mother, sister, Grandmother, and friend join forces in the raising of Freya. A young girl, clumsy and eager, visits Canadian Gimli with her mother. Over many years, the story unwinds, with surprising twists and turns that create a story where an underlayment of Icelandic history becomes a foundation for growth.

I completely loved this book. I am Scotch-Irish and still found myself totally involved in the characters, their intertwined relationships, and the link of Icelandic culture, language, and geography. In the telling of the tale, this author intertwines geneology, cultural paradigms, and the awkwardness of teenage social acceptability regardless of culture.

If you are interested in stretching your horizons through an excellent read, learning about Icelandic culture, and the link between countries and cultures, then this book is an excellent adventure betwixt your ears.

History being what it is, I gained a depth of understanding of the culture of Iceland that I never would have acquired watching the news. Perhaps readers of today are ready to stretch their horizons, adventure beyond the comforts of home and dive into a book that will draw in their hearts, their dreams and broaden their horizons as well.
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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful By John Green TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on March 10, 2009
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
It took me a while to get "into" this novel. The writing style is a bit convoluted, in that the author strives to include lots of Icelandic lore and words. Nothing wrong with that, but the words in particular tend to cause speed-bumps in the reading process.

However, I still rated this novel with five stars. The character development is excellent, the mystery (although slow to unfold), is very good. The ending is a bit predictable (I saw it at least two chapters before it was revealed), but overall the book is very satisfying.

At first I wasn't enthused about the author's use of the reader as a "cousin", but as time went on I got used to it - although it seemed a bit contrived, even to the end of the book. The literary device just seemed to cause me to pause in my reading; I suppose it is because just being CALLED cousin doesn't make the reader seem like a relative, and to me the book didn't draw the reader in from that aspect.

The descriptions of Iceland are very good, and I got a good feel for the immigrant culture.

There are a few adult moments in the book, but it should be fine for early teenagers and older. I think it would be confusing for younger children.

I recommend this book for people who are interested in Iceland, Icelandic traditions and culture, and those who want a slowly unfolding mystery.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By OrchidSlayer VINE VOICE on March 17, 2009
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
I love Iceland. I find it a magical island with some of the most polite people I have met. So, when I had the opportunity to read this book I jumped at it.

The book did not disappoint. Although there were times it seemed like the author had a list of Icelandic cultural information that she forced into a short passage, on the whole it is a very realistic and interesting look at the land and culture.

Although Iceland features prominently in the book, this is way more than just a book about Iceland. "The Tricking of Freya" is primarily about family dynamics and family secrets. Bi-polar illness is prominently featured. Readers who had been fortunate enough to not been exposed to this disorder will find this book a realistic look at the nerve-racking world of those who love someone suffering from the disease.

Excellent book on many levels. Recommended, especially for fellow Iceland lovers.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Daffy Du VINE VOICE on February 8, 2009
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Iceland, which I had the pleasure of visiting in 2005, is a beautiful, fascinating country, so I jumped at the chance to read The Tricking of Freya, which promised an inside look at its culture and history, along with an intriguing plot.

On the cultural, historical and linguistic front, Freya absolutely delivers. The book successfully depicts the richness of Iceland's heritage, and I found myself wishing we'd had the author along on our trip. On the fictional front, however, the narrative is less satisfying. While the writing itself is strong and the character of Birdie in particularly is vividly portrayed, the overall storyline is hobbled by too much detail, and the pacing really drags in places. Certain themes recur too often: I got tired of Freya's endless self-flagellation, and the description of her life in New York at times is as dreary as her life itself. It's as if the author was so in love with her subject, she lost the objectivity to know when to back off. I kept wanting to say, "Enough already! I get it!"

Then there were the logical gaps. How, realistically, could Birdie have whisked 13-year-old Freya away to Iceland? Wouldn't Freya have needed a passport, which few young kids in America had in the 1970s? And what did Birdie live on? Where did she get the money for their trip?

The book's main conceit--a LONG letter to a long-lost cousin--is an interesting device, but ultimately awkward, especially when the author abandons it in the last few chapters. My biggest criticism, though, is that the denouement is utterly predictable; I had it figured out about halfway through, which made me less motivated to finish the book than I might otherwise have been.

That said, on balance, I think the book's strengths outweigh its weaknesses.
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