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.)
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