The Promise of Iceland
by Kari Gislason
Reviewed by Krissy Kneen
Kari was born in Iceland. His father is Icelandic, but for many years he could not claim Iceland as his own. He was the product of a long term but secret relationship between his English mother and an Icelandic man who was married and had a family with someone else. Kari’s mother is a restless soul who spent her life searching for a place to call home. He shares his mother’s restlessness but for Kari it is about finally acknowledging and claiming a heritage that has been denied to him. His mother promised that she would never reveal the identity of his father and Kari himself repeated this promise to his father when reconnecting with him many years after leaving Iceland. As a result of these fundamental promises, Kari can never feel settled in any one place. He bounces between Iceland, England and Australia but his heart longs for the land of his birth, the land depicted in his beloved Icelandic Sagas, and the idea of home.
The Promise of Iceland is a simple memoir about a man in search of his father and a cultural identity to call his own, but even though it seems like a simple and straightforward story these still waters run very deep. Gislason deftly weaves ideas of commitment, kinship, love and longing through his own story. He is often as harsh on himself as the landscape of Iceland can be harsh and unforgiving. A gentle soul who loves his mother dearly, Gislason admits to many mistakes in this revealing memoir. Landscape plays a large role in this gorgeously told tale, the extremes of the Australian landscape and the Icelandic one frame a tale of fathers, sons, mothers, betrayals, forgiveness and love. This is a quietly moving and effecting memoir by a first time Brisbane novelist. Highly recommended.