‘We are all foreign of an Island’, the novel by Siri Jacobsen
In the novel by Siri Jacobsen, the archipelago of the Faroe becomes a metaphor for all the travel, for all return home, and now lost empathy towards those who emigrated.
The Faroe, which means ‘Sheep’s Islands’ are an archipelago of eighteen islands in the North Atlantic, between Norway and Iceland, but belong to the unified kingdom of Denmark. These islands have broad autonomy, for example, they do not belong to the European Union, and have high margins of self-government and a fierce spirit of independence, especially for the Faroese language and mythological traditions.
The protagonist of the book was born in Copenhagen from a family with Faroe origins: during the thirties, her grandparents (Abbi and Omma) left the impervious sub-Arctic lands to embrace modernity and the possibilities for a more prosperous future in the continent.
The nostalgic memory of those windswept islands has never abandoned them and, after their death, even the protagonist discovers in herself the desire to rediscover her roots.
Landing at Vagàr Airport, built by the British during their occupation in World War II, the protagonist soon finds herself in a foreign world almost mystically and out of time and space: ‘We are not in Europe’, resolutely say the residents, anchored in traditions like the night of St. John, the legs of wind-dried sheep, the hunting of whales.
Islanders and isolated, they have built a national identity and solid defence, which leaves little room for outsiders. Paradoxically, it was the British occupiers that let them re-use their flag in 1943 when they could no longer tolerate the Nazi-occupied Denmark flag: ‘blood the cross, blue sea and white foam against the impact of the nation’s coasts’.
However, the young protagonist slowly manages to dive into this dense ice sea, and she does it thanks to the ‘extended memory ‘ of her family, rebuilding family connections, personalities of distant ancestors and especially the way of salvation of her grandparents.
But also and above all, transforming the myths and legends that inhabit the Faroe: the floating islands, the sea witches, hollow rocks that host the fairies.
The writing style of the author is impenetrable and evocative, managing to combine the organic matter with the inanimate one, especially with the subject of fantasy.
But this book is not just a folk tale of a distant land. Above all it is a poetic and touching reflection on the journey as a movement in two directions: of course, there is the return home, to the perfect Ithaca and nostalgic (Nostalgia is an original word from Greek Nostos which mean, return) we all yearn for; but even before there is a departure, the migration.
The relocation that takes us far away, that looks to the future but does uproot: for the main character, in fact, her grandfather’s ‘was living in the future, until it began to live in the past. In this sense, he was a real migrant’.
The duplicity becomes inevitable.
Photo by Marc Zimmer on Unsplash