Review by Publisher's Weekly Review
Sjón (CoDex 1962) offers up a chilling study of an Icelandic white supremacist. In 1958, Nazi sympathizer Gunnar Pálsson Kampen reaches out to leaders of fascist movements and political parties in the U.S., Great Britain, and Sweden, hoping to gain recognition for his fledgling, small-time Sovereign Power Movement. The reader knows from the first chapter, set in 1962, that Gunnar will be found dead on a train in Britain; in an afterword, Sjón claims he used the framing device to make his story more palatable ("It is easier to deal with a dead Nazi than a living one"). Gunnar grows up in a middle-class family with an abusive father who's "afraid of Hitler." As he grows, visitors and family members drop hints of their allegiance to white supremacist ideology. One such woman, wearing a swastika broach, holds his hand up to a table lamp and declares, "Only white people let the light into themselves!" The novel becomes epistolary midway through, revealing the deepening of Gunnar's bigotry through letters written to a love interest, and Sjón keeps the brief story taut as he works his way back to Gunnar's mysterious death. This illuminating tale makes for worthy companion to anti-fascist works by Hannah Arendt and Jean-Paul Sartre. (Jan.)
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Review by Kirkus Book Review
A young man slides into neo-Nazism in post--World War II Iceland. The discovery of the protagonist's body in an English railway car on Page 1 sends an unmistakable signal that this will be a grim book. But this slim novel--the account of a young man's budding career in nationalist politics in late 1950s and early '60s Iceland, cut short when he dies of cancer at age 24--offers little insight into what brought Gunnar Pálsson Kampen to his ignoble end and even less drama in its telling. There's nothing about Gunnar's childhood in postwar Reykavík hinting that through his teens he'll gradually be transformed into an activist spreading falsehoods about "global Zionism" and defending the "right of the Aryan to cultivate his heritage." The novel's epistolary middle section traces Gunnar's growing attachment to far right ideology through the 1950s, as he connects with real-life characters who include George Lincoln Rockwell, longtime leader of the American Nazi Party, and Nazi sympathizer and spy Savitri Devi, both of whom spent time in Iceland during their lives, without revealing any clear reason for his growing obsession over the hold he claims the "Synagogue of Satan" has on the world or his motivation to create a political party he calls the Sovereign Power Movement in a country whose Jewish population would barely fill a small chapel. In an afterword, Sjón admits he put aside any attempt to "employ pathos or myth" and that what he was "looking for instead was what made my character normal, to the point of banality." The flaw in that approach is that it turns Gunnar into a character who lacks sufficient depth or interest to engage the reader's emotions, for good or ill. The attraction of right-wing European nationalism in one man's life receives superficial treatment in this dark story. Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.
Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.