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The Journey Home Hardcover – November 14, 2000

4.0 out of 5 stars 21 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Holed away in lush British farm country, Disa runs a small inn with her friend Anthony. They're both past middle age, eccentrics who understand each other too well. Their life consists of early mornings, chores, twilight walks down to the reflecting pool. Guests descend on the place in spring, full of noise and expectation. Disa runs the kitchen, serving up gourmet dinners that have become famous among savvy food critics and tourists.

Olaf Olafsson's The Journey Home is constructed in tight succinct fragments, like journal entries. Shuttling between past and present, it's about reckoning with grief and bad memories in the face of death. Diagnosed with a terminal illness, Disa knows she needs to make a journey back to Iceland, a place that reflects the past back to her: a mother who abandoned her, a fiancé eventually killed by the Nazis.

Although not much directly happens in this novel, great tension develops between the pull of memory and the push of the moment. In Disa, Olafsson (Absolution) has created a vibrant character who wants to overcome sadness by plunging into the sensual. She's always cooking up fantastic meals, and the descriptions of food are truly mouthwatering: trout "fried with a sprinkling of ground almonds," apples "which I love to bake after they have soaked in port for a long, quiet afternoon." The powerful smells and sights of life rescue Disa from fear--if she doesn't quite believe in God, she believes in the immediacy of the world. This is the novel's subtly redemptive tendency, laid out piece by piece in Disa's soothing melancholy voice: "Sometimes you have to get a grip on yourself to keep your thoughts under control, but it's worth it. The reward is just around the next corner, whether it is a clutch of perfect eggs in a basket or the sound of birdsong on a still day. The soul can take delight in small things if one's dreams only leave it in peace long enough." --Emily White

From Publishers Weekly

The cool undercurrents of history shiver the surface of this serene fiction set in England and Iceland after WWII. Twenty years after the war, Icelandic migr Adisa ("Disa") Jonsdottir is a successful, Elizabeth Davidesque restaurateur, manager of Ditton Hall, an English stately home transformed into a hotel. She lives with Anthony, the local squire, in a common-law arrangement and has assembled a staff suited to her perfectionist, willful character. Into her impeccably choreographed life comes the sudden news that she is terminally ill; knowing she may have less than a year left to live, she sets out to visit Iceland one last time. On her travels, a series of flashbacks bring memories of her childhood in Iceland and her early culinary training in prewar London. Buried deepest in her heart is the fate of her Jewish lover, Jakob, who returns to Germany from London in 1938 to try to rescue his parents. Alone, Disa goes home to Iceland and its quasi-racist politics, where she signs on as a cook for the well-to-do Haraldssons, whose troubled adult son has recently returned from Germany under a cloud. Olafsson (Absolution) writes in a spare but moving English, though sometimes Disa describes her recipes with more richness than the characters in her lives. Perhaps too reminiscent of Kazuo Ishiguro's butler in Remains of the Day, Disa weaves her own spell in Olafsson's accomplished novel, saving the tale from melodrama with her calm self-possession. Agent, Gloria Loomis. (Nov.)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Product Details

  • Series: Cinema Classics
  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Pantheon (November 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375420614
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375420610
  • Product Dimensions: 8.6 x 5.8 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (21 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,898,161 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By taking a rest HALL OF FAME on May 6, 2001
Format: Hardcover
This is the first work I have read by. Mr. Olafur Johann Olafsson, however after reading, "The Journey Home", I look forward to whatever he presents next. The book is beautifully assembled but that does not keep it from portraying a complex woman who has bitter regrets, has suffered the horror of war, damaged familial relations, and at times almost self-imposed solitude.
The book is written in almost a series of notes, the protagonist actually carries a journal and mentions taking notes on her final trip home, however the book reads as if she always kept a diary. Not a day-to-day diary, but one that culls the highest and the lowest points of her life, and some that document her philosophy. The section that describes her thoughts on cooking and why a recipe should never be written down is simply brilliant. I would imagine those who cook would rarely take issue with her poetic thoughts.
The book is about a woman who is living out the estimated time of her remaining days. What was so enjoyable was that this did not portray some wistful mindless reminiscences, rather a woman who while admitting her mistakes, is basically content with the life she has lead. She is a confident woman and unusually so, for her thoughts of religion are the same as they have been for her life prior to illness, she does not make religion convenient, she remains true to what she has always been.
A very good book by an especially talented Author who wrote this volume from the perspective of a woman. I read a work by the Master Storyteller Mr. Roddy Doyle when he too wrote from a female's perspective, and Mr. Olafsson's work is every bit as good.
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Format: Hardcover
In the tiniest of vignettes, most only a page or two long, Olafsson creates a pointillist portrait of Disa, a middle-aged Icelandic woman, and the people and events from her past over which she still feels guilt and distress. She is on her way back to Iceland from England, where she and her friend Anthony have run a country hotel for many years, and where she has acquired a reputation as a fine chef. Her trip "home" is an attempt to find peace and to achieve the satisfaction of knowing her life has had meaning. This is an urgent quest--Disa has only twelve to eighteen months to live, and her life is full of unresolved traumas.

Olafsson uses the diary Disa keeps on her journey to intersperse sensitive, often powerful, memories from the past with her recollections from her more recent life in England. She is an intense and independent woman who sometimes reacts more sensitively toward the natural world around her than to the people with whom she has had relationships. We relive her estrangement from her mother and sister, her heartache in love, her love for her father and her secret life in Iceland, her protectiveness for her partner Anthony, her relationships with her employers and later with her employees, and her desperate romantic fling during a particularly vulnerable time. As in our own daydreams, we relive Disa's memories and the feelings they evoke in random order, not always knowing why they are important until later memories provide the keys to understanding. As her memories and nightmares intensify, the suspense grows. As Disa says, "The soul can take delight in small things if one's dreams only leave it in peace long enough.
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Format: Hardcover
For three days what a thrill it has been for me to forget most of my advent chores while reading THE JOURNEY HOME by Ólaf Ólafsson. His sensous descriptions of people and nature in Iceland and in England touched me. In England Dísa thinks back to Kópasker and Reykjavík. In the U.S. I think back to the latter and The Landisles. The author fully developes recognizable, interesting caracters as well as he did in his book OBSOLUTION.I liked his father's ( I danced with him as a teenager) many popular books and I admire his son's many achievements.
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Format: Paperback
An Icelandic chef travels from London to Reykjavik in "A Journey Home" - she travels in a literal sense, and as in quality fiction, her journey takes on a metaphoric dimension as well. Her journey’s meaning is revealed to us in the course of her first-person narrative, and along the way the author treats us to some remarkable effects. This is a bewitching book, with its low-key diction and its high-strung, independent heroine.

Her name is Asdis, and is called Disa for short. In her life she goes her own way, to the chagrin and frustration of her family, her mother in particular. After “an expensive” course of training in clerical work, she opts for a career in cooking. She falls in love with and agrees to marry a German Jewish man just as World War II is starting, and this too, irks her family. In fact she and her mother become estranged. The present-day part of her story occurs long after these events, however, and although she has spells where she strongly doubts the success of her mission, she pushes on in spite of herself.

Olaf Olafsson manages this portrait with a very different but highly affecting scheme. Disa’s telling of her story has the feel of a long, one-sided conversation, drawn out through a single, talk-filled night. She bounces around in time as she weaves her tale, but don’t be fooled: none of this ever approaches aimlessness. Mr. Olafsson has a very distinct, very touching story to relate, and he bends his heroine and his style to its ends very surely. I found the whole very effective and very memorable.

Disa has her dark moments and her author deepens them with perfectly striking imagery and blunt-spoken philosophy.
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