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Öræfi: The Wasteland

Öræfi: The Wasteland

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By Ófeigur Sigurðsson
Translated from the Icelandic by Lytton Smith

An ambitious epic novel showcases the brutal elements of human nature and mother nature alike in Iceland's most desolate region.

Publication Date: October 2, 2018

Paperback: 9781941920671
eBook: 9781941920688


"Sigurdsson is without a doubt one of the best writers of his generation." —Frettabladid Daily

After a grueling solo expedition on Vatnajökull Glacier, Austrian toponymist Bernhardt Fingerberg returns to civilization, barely alive, and into the care of Dr. Lassi. The doctor, suspicious of his story, attempts to discover his real motives for venturing into the treacherous wastelands of Iceland—but the secrets she unravels may be more dangerous than they're worth.

Biographical Note

Ófeigur Sigurðsson was born in Reykjavík on November 2, 1975. He has published six books of poetry and two novels. Ófeigur has tried his hand at a number of things: working as a uniformed night-watchman at a hotel, pre-packing ham and bacon at a factory farm, exercising his brawn as a dock worker, and exercising his brains as a student at the Philosophy Department of the University of Iceland, from where he received his BA degree in 2007 with a thesis on the taboo and transgression in the works of Georges Bataille. Ófeigur is at the forefront of a poetic movement of dynamic young creative people, who have recently had a hand in reshaping the form of Icelandic poetry. He has translated literature and written for radio on writers including Louis-Ferdinand Céline and Michel Houellebecq. A prolific poet, Ófeigur has published several collections including Toast to the Midwinter (2001) and Redness (2006). In 2005 his first novel, Áferð, was published and received very positive reviews. His second novel, Jón (2010), the story of a man writing letters to his pregnant wife from a cave, became the first Icelandic novel to receive the European Union Prize for Literature. Ófeigur’s latest book, Öræfi: The Wasteland, came out in 2014 and was the runaway literary sensation of the year, becoming a massive bestseller and receiving the Icelandic Literary Prize, and it was also chosen as the year's best book among the country's booksellers.

Lytton Smith (born 1982) is an Anglo-American poet and translator. His poetry collections include The All-Purpose Magical Tent (Nightboat Books, 2009), which was selected by Terrance Hayes for the Nightboat Books Poetry Prize in 2009, and a previous chapbook, Monster Theory, selected by Kevin Young for the Poetry Society of America Chapbook Fellowship in 2008. He has taught at Columbia University, Fordham University, and Plymouth University, and is currently a professor at SUNY-Geneseo. In addition to his work translating Jón Gnarr, he has translated two other novels from Icelandic: The Ambassador by Bragi Ólafsson (Open Letter 2010) and A Child in Reindoor Woods by Kristín Ómarsdóttir (Open Letter 2012), and his translation of Tómas Jónsson, Bestseller by Gudbergur Bergsson is forthcoming from Open Letter Books.


Winner of the Icelandic Literature Prize
Chosen by the booksellers of Iceland as the best novel of 2015
Longlisted for the National Translation Prize 2019

"This is epic literature." —Jón Gnarr, author of The Indian

“Sigurdsson is without a doubt one of the best writers of his generation.” Frettabladid

“Icelandic humour mixed with fantasy and historical facts, Öræfi is a rare find. This novel proves that Ófeigur Sigurðsson is one of the most noteworthy and original authors of his generation.” —Fríða Björk Ingvarsdóttir / Víðsjá culture program, Radio 1, Iceland

“But the novel certainly inherits Thomas Bernhard’s style of reports of reports of reported speech, leading to sentences like the following which closes the first section, much as mathematical brackets close a formula . . . Highly recommended and one to watch in the 2019 Best Translated Book Awards.” The Mookse & The Gripes 

“It’s a brilliant, ecstatic, hallucinatory arabesque consisting of nested tales of decreasing reliability and increasing self-awareness—all centering upon this blasted Icelandic emptiness where having or knowing anything seems only barely possible, where one glimpses the struggle to verify the contents of the world in bleakest terms.” —David Searcy, The Literary Hub

“Part adventure, part history, and part madness! Sigurdsson’s nested rant of a narrative swept the literary awards in his native Iceland and is now one of the best books translated into English this year. and the winner is…ORAEFI: THE WASTELAND!” —Keaton Patterson, Brazos Book Buyer’s Book of the Year Awards 

"A bold and startling novel." —Viv Groskop, The Guardian

“Stunning novel . . . What follows is a collection of Icelandic stories, realist and mythic, historical and fictional, nestled inside an epic adventure. It is at once a history of place, and a man’s intensely personal journey through the elements of the land, and of his own mind. A delightfully complex play on the epistolary novel, the narration of Öræfi is layered, at times coming to us through five or six levels of character interpretation.” The Arkansas International 

“Amazing storytelling, plotting, perfect recursive structuring, just compulsively readable. . . I thought I’d put in a word today for the book from Deep Vellum that is completely rocking my December days! take a chance! It’ll change your perspective!” —John Darnielle, The Mountain Goats

“Sigurðsson takes on such a variety of moods and modes that he acts as a kind of ventriloquist, allowing an enormous variety of literature to speak through him. And it is wildly entertaining, this book. It’s both playful and deeply researched, bleak and yet hearty—like a pub full of friends clinking glasses just before the end of the world. Except the friends are all PhDs. And the pub is a gigantic igloo. And the end of the world is an April Fools’ Day prank.” —Katherine Coldiron,  Carolina Quarterly 

“Go buy it! it’s worth reading.” Three Percent

“Readers who are willing to yield to Öræfi, to open themselves to the unpredictable, will find in these pages one of the most vivacious, most ferociously inventive novels available in any language today.” —Alec Dewar, Splice

“Easy to summarize, but impossible to explain Oraefi is a strange amalgamation of explorer’s tale, travelogue, historical fiction, collection of dramatic monologues, and celebration of place names. Ostensibly the story of a scholar who nearly dies while exploring a wasteland in Iceland, the story meanders through multiple layers and narrators like a stream flowing from the glacier to the forest to the sea. It’s a wild ride, unlike anything you’ve read.” —Staff pick by bookseller Josh Cook  Porter Square Books 

"Öraefi: The Wasteland is an insane, swaggering beast of a novel that incorporates everything from volcanoes to feral sheep to death metal in a tale that literally defies the imagination. It’s a rollicking, sui generis quest story brought to English in all its idiosyncratic complexity by Lytton Smith’s stellar translation.” —Keaton Patterson, Brazos Bookstore (Houston, TX)