I like to think about lost places; out of the way corners that are the opposite of epicenter yet where lives still continue though they have no knowledge of Paris and Washington DC. Timbuktu forgotten in the sand; Lubero captured by the high jungle; Coro hugging the pristine beaches.
The Faroe Islands.
Did you know there’s a self-governing protectorate of the Kingdom of Denmark halfway between England and Iceland? Colonized by Vikings in the 700s and Christianized in 1100; the hearty residents have lived on the rocky volcanic outcropping for more than 900 years. I have thought of going here – it’s on my list just like the Falkland Islands are and in my research I found out that they also have an amazing little literary culture. What could be better than that??
Heoin Bru was their first novelist, born in the tiny village of Skalavic in the days when Torshavn was considered the big city. “The Old Man and His Sons” is his most famous story. Naturally, as all good stories, it is a one set firmly in time and place. It is about the islands, cold and hard and isolated. A whale hunt of significant size, a hungry island which sees a supply of meat before it, and the tale of one villager who goes into debt to acquire some of that bounty. And what that debt does to him.
It is a story about food. We in the west often, from our bounty, forget about the tyranny of hunger pains. We gratefully ignore the fact that most of the time, in most of the world, the main consideration governing the actions of men has been that empty dining-room table and their efforts to fill it. Building a cushioned pantry between ourselves and that table – has that been our major accomplishment as a civilization? Or have we in our facile licentiousness inadvertently freed ourselves instead from discipline; of work and saving and planning our futures and preparing for hard moments – of gratitude to God for what He has given us and understanding that it is not always so; that there is no hard-fast rule that it must be so.
“The Old Man and his Sons” is a simple story, it is not brutal or tragic or violent – it tells its tale without the pretense to offend or to push the reader in any direction except to consider what it must have been like to live so lost away from the world in such a time as did the novel’s characters. If you too like lost places, as I do, consider a visit to Faroe Islands. To see the raging north Atlantic, to feel isolation and – more importantly – to read some amazing Faroese literature, and perhaps even pen some of your own.
I sure plan to.