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Woman at 1,000 Degrees

de Hallgrímur Helgason

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16810127,901 (4.09)19
"THE HOTTEST NEW BOOK FROM ICELAND IS WOMAN AT 1,000 DEGREES . . . What a story it is, one worth reading to further understand the complexity of World War II--and to enjoy the quick wit of a woman you won't forget." --Bethanne Patrick, The Washington Post "I live here alone in a garage, together with a laptop computer and an old hand grenade. It's pretty cozy." Herra Björnsson is at the beginning of the end of her life. Oh, she has two weeks left, maybe three--she has booked her cremation appointment, at a crispy 1,000 degrees, so it won't be long. But until then she has her cigarettes, a World War II-era weapon, some Facebook friends, and her memories to sustain her. And what a life this remarkable eighty-year-old narrator has led. In the internationally bestselling and award-winning Woman at 1,000 Degrees, which has been published in fourteen languages, noted Icelandic novelist Hallgrímur Helgason has created a true literary original. From Herra's childhood in the remote islands of Iceland, where she was born the granddaughter of Iceland's first president, to teen years spent living by her wits alone in war-torn Europe while her father fought on the side of the Nazis, to love affairs on several continents, Herra Björnsson moved Zelig-like through the major events and locales of the twentieth century. She wed and lost husbands, had children, fled a war, kissed a Beatle, weathered the Icelandic financial crash, and mastered the Internet. She has experienced luck and betrayal and upheaval and pain, and--with a bawdy, uncompromising spirit--she has survived it all. Now, as she awaits death in a garage in Reykjavík, she shows us a woman unbowed by the forces of history. Each part of Herra's story is a poignant piece of a puzzle that comes together in the final pages of this remarkable, unpredictable, and enthralling novel.… (més)
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Het orgineel van mijn review kan je vinden op mijn blog:
http://www.linda-linea-recta.nl/een-vrouw-op-1000-door-hallgrimur-helgason-een-b...

Wat een verhaal! Een reis door (haar) honderjarige geschiedenis. Raadselachtig, aangrijpend, verslavend en af en toe komisch. Een contact-arme eenzame kettingrokende vrouw die de na haar ervaringen in de 2e WO en de dood van haar dochtertje, geen liefde meer te geven heeft. Haar mannen geeft ze de bons door een taxi te bellen!

Haar geschiedenis leid ons van het vooroorlogse IJsland naar Duitsland en het bezette Denemarken ten tijden van de 2e WO en vervolgens na het naoorlogse Argentinië en weer terug naar IJsland. Het verhaal is pakkend geschreven met oog voor details (soms wel heel veel details en neigt dan naar langdradig) Maar het verhaal blijft pakken.

Arm kind, als elf jarige alleen in Duitsland ten tijden van de 2e WO! Van haar elfde tot haar zestiende zwerft ze alleen in het door oorlog geteisterde Europa rond. Zwaar getraumatiseerd, mishandeld en verkracht komt ze hieruit. Natuurlijk was er toen nog geen War Child!


In een oorlog ben je altijd alleen en ik geloof eerlijk gezegd dat die eenzaamheid mijn leven heeft gevormd; ik word altijd een beetje misselijk bij de gedachte dat men ernaar streeft na zijn leven weer met dezelfde mensen samen te wonen.


Ze was overal op de verkeerde plek. Voor Ase was ik te Deens. Op school was ik te Duits. Maar voor iedereen was ik te IJslands. Ik was altijd verkeerd. Zo is het mijn hele leven geweest. Na de oorlog in Argentinië dachten ze dat ik Duits was en keken ze me met scheve ogen aan. In Duitsland kwamen ze erachter dat ik in Argentinië had gewoond en keken ze me met scheve ogen aan. Thuis was ik een nazi, in Amerika een communist en in de Sovjet-Unie werd ik beschuldigd van z8kapitalistisch gedrag*. In IJsland was ik te bereisd, voor mijn reizen te IJslands. Op de Bessaplek was ik niet chic genoeg terwijl ze me in Bolungerbaai voor *primadonna* uitscholden. Voor vrouwen dronk ik als een kerel, voor kerels als een del. In de liefde was ik te hongerig en in het huwelijk had ik geen trek. Ik paste verdomme nooit ergens in en was voortdurend opzoek naar een nieuw feestje. Ik was een eeuwige zwerfster. Zo begon mijn vlucht, mijn levenslange, aanhoudende vlucht. In september 1940 op de lagere school in de Zilverstraat.


Ik heb beter verdiend. Verdomme! Ik heb zoveel beter verdiend. Ik dacht dat ik ten minste in mijn eigen bed zou mogen sterven, zelfs in aanwezigheid van degenen die *mijn naaste familie* werden genoemd


De geschiedenis van de mensheid is niets anders dan een ratelslanglange aaneenschakeling van krankzinnige gebeurtenissen, die geen barst met het leven te doen hebben, maar slechts een vorm van buitensporige mannenwaanzin zijn, die vrouwen van allen tijden eindeloos over zich heen moesten laten gaan.

Persoonlijk vond ik de hoofdpersoon niet aardig, maar naarmate het boek vordert begrijp ik volkomen hoe ze zo is geworden. Heel cynisch met een flinke doses zelfspot, zichzelf niet (meer) bloot kunnen geven.
( )
  LindaKwakernaat | Nov 29, 2018 |
The acknowledgements credit inspiration to a woman the author spoke to when campaigning for his then partner. It manages to bring in everything from the Icelandic crash to Nazi fellow travellers, in one increasingly incredible fictional autobiography, narrated by an elderly cyber criminal whose nicotine filled lungs are giving up on her.
"After spending half my life abroad, I yearned for my country in all its crassness. All its women’s-club coffee, cake mania, cola binges and cold sauce orgies. All its wind and rain and bitter, grumpy men. All its myopic culture and Worst German architecture with its endless parking fields and petrol temples. It was actually so strange that in the beauty of Paris, which never meets you without her makeup, it was the rudeness of Reykjavík I missed the most, the ugliness and its rough weather. I couldn’t stand all those flowery balconies anymore, baroque palaces and quaint, arty squares, not to mention the frigging fountains. This lava longing must have had something to do with the ugliness of our land, because Iceland obviously isn’t all beautiful. Many parts of the highlands and around Snæfellsjökull are very ugly, for example, not to mention the Reykjanes Peninsula and Mount Hellisheidi, that uncooked gruel of gales and lava.
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1 vota charl08 | Feb 12, 2018 |
Herra is eighty years old, riddled with cancer, and ready to die. So ready she calls up the crematorium and makes an appointment, but first, she will take some time to review her life–an alarmingly eventful and unlikely life.

If Hallgrïmur Helgason had not based Woman at 1000 Degrees on the life and memoirs of Brynhildur Georgia Bjornsson, the granddaughter of Iceland’s first president. Helgason serendipitously called her while phone canvassing for his wife’s campaign, it would be easy to think Herra was too incredible, but truth can be stranger than fiction.

With sardonic humor and frank honesty, Herra assesses her life and her many loves. She’s more or less alone–living in a garage, neglected by her children which she thinks is fair since she often neglected them. She recalls the many men in her life, her travels, and her travails. At first, it seems like it will be a sarcastic recollection by an unrepentant and self-indulgent femme fatal, but she’s just warming up before getting to the hard stuff.

And the hard stuff is hard. Her father is seduced by the strong-man appeal of Hitler and enlists in the SS even though he’s Icelandic. The family is separated, her mother going to work as a housekeeper, her father in the army, and Herra sent to an island away from the war. However, when a planned family reunion in Berlin is disrupted, she is stranded, alone, a child who must figure out how to survive during World War II Germany. Her story is harrowing, a remarkable example of survival against all odds.

I enjoyed Woman at 1000 Degrees very much, though it took some doing to get into the story. I nearly quit about fifteen percent of the way through, thinking I didn’t much like Herra and who cares about all the men she slept with, but that’s just because she’s gearing herself up for the tough stuff. She’s not exactly a nice person, she catfishes on the internet, she talks about neglecting her children for men and travel and it’s only when you get to know her story that it begins to make sense.

I received an e-galley of Woman at 1000 Degrees from the publisher through NetGalley.

Woman at 1000 Degrees at Algonquin Books, Workman Publishing
Hallgrímur Helgason author site

https://tonstantweaderreviews.wordpress.com/2018/01/18/9781616206239/ ( )
  Tonstant.Weader | Jan 18, 2018 |
Herbjörg Maria (Herra) Björnsson is 80 years old and living in Reykjavík; she begins the narrative of her life with an interesting opening: “I live here alone in a garage, together with a laptop computer and an old hand grenade. It’s pretty cozy.” What follows is a look back at her life with a focus on the years of World War II when her experiences shaped her character and life thereafter.

It is the characterization of Herra that stands out. From the beginning she emerges as a feisty, witty woman but then we see her selfishness which will have some readers turning away. She describes her uninhibited lifestyle: “I was independent, had few scruples, and didn’t let anything hold me back – dogma, men, or gossip. I traveled around and took casual jobs, looked after my own interests, had children and lost one, but didn’t let the other ones tie me down, took them with me or left them behind, just kept moving and refused to allow myself to be drawn into marriage and to be bored to death, although that was the toughest part, of course.” Even as an octogenarian, she engages in questionable behaviour. For instance, she has a number of fake identities on social media and uses them to spy on a daughter-in-law and to mercilessly flirt with an Australian man who is obsessed with bodybuilding.

Those readers who don’t let Herra’s negative traits deter them from continuing through her narrative come to understand her and have sympathy for her. For instance, she never fits in: “I was wrong everywhere I went. To Åse [my Norwegian friend] I was too Danish. At school [in Denmark] I was too German. And to everyone too Icelandic. I never fitted in. At any time in my life. In Argentina after the war, people thought I was German and looked at me askance. In Germany, when they realized I’d been to Argentina, people looked at me askance. And at home I was a Nazi, in America a Communist, and on a trip to the Soviet Union I was accused of ‘capitalistic behaviour.’ In Iceland I was too traveled, on my travels too Icelandic. . . . Women told me I drank like a man, men like a slut. In my flings I was deemed too keen; in my relationships too frigid. I couldn’t fit in any damned where and was therefore always looking for the next party. I was a relentless fugitive on the run.” But it is her horrific experiences in war-ravaged Europe that result in trauma so profound that all her future relationships suffer. Her explanation to her sons is not an understatement: “’Tell them that their mother did her best, but my eighth life wouldn’t allow for . . . for more.’” The title may refer to the temperature used by a crematorium to burn a human body, but it is also an apt metaphor for what Herra endures.

It is during the war that Herra learns about the extent of man’s inhumanity. As Herra witnesses, women are certainly capable of brutal behaviour, but it is the treatment she receives from men that leaves her with little tolerance for members of the male sex. She comes to agree with the observations of an acquaintance who advises her to beware of men because “’All men are Germans’” and to not become a woman because “’Women have such a rough time. Just be a person. Not a woman. . . . to be a woman is like being . . . it’s just a disease. . . . To be a woman is a disease. A deadly disease.’” She also comes to believe that virtually all women have been raped: “No doubt Mom, Grandma, Great-Grandma, and all their foremothers had been raped . . . In farms, in barns, in ditches, on hills, on heaths, in bedrooms, in kitchens, in larders, at balls, in woods, on ships, in castles, cabins, gardens, and the Garden of Eden.” Having been abandoned by one or both parents at different times, Herra didn’t have model parents but could her negligence of her sons be at least partially attributed to their gender?

The novel moves back and forth through time as befits the disjointed memories of an old woman, but this technique does present some challenges for the reader. Of course, to maintain reader interest, the most shocking revelation is saved for the end. At times, the book does drag. There is considerable commentary about Icelanders and their culture; several times there is reference to the Icelandic tradition of silence: “the tyranny of Mr. Silence, the despot who ruled Iceland in the twentieth century.” Having only visited Iceland once and not being too familiar with Icelandic history, this pre-occupation with silence doesn’t mean much to me.

The touches of humour are wonderful. Herra finds walking painful so describes her path to the toilet as her Via Dolorosa: “My dream is to be hooked up to a catheter and a bedpan, but my application got stuck in the system. There’s constipation everywhere.” There is more than one example of satire in the author’s having the wife of an Icelandic car importer, a Mrs. Fortuneson, name an automobile a Chèvre au lait, “’making the American car maker sound like a fancy French hors d’oeuvre.” The episode where Herra calls a crematorium to make an appointment for disposal of her body is hilarious.

I’ve always enjoyed books where an elderly person examines his/her life, and this title will be added to my list of notable examples of this type.

Note: I received an eARC of this book from the publisher via NetGalley.

Please check out my reader's blog (https://schatjesshelves.blogspot.ca/) and follow me on Twitter (@DCYakabuski). ( )
  Schatje | Jan 9, 2018 |
"Bye, Mom."

It was a clumsy kiss he gave me and I had to wipe my cheek afterward. But as I watched him moping towards the door, I suddenly didn't understand anything about his life and how I, a wreck of a woman with a raison for a liver and a glove for a breast, had managed to give birth to this 220-pound male body. It was an incomprehensible to me as a desiccated cactus being informed that it had a grown kangaroo for a son. He exited with sadness in his dark blue eyes, and then, needless to say, I didn't hear from him again.

What a dreadfully wicked thing for his mother to do, and above all, how inconsiderate. My son's peace of mind was gone, and my bitchy soul was to blame. Even on the cold summit of my old age, I hadn't managed to tame that ferocious beast. That's always been the way with me. The person that I am, Herbjorg Maria Bjornsson, has never had full control over her voice and actions because there's a far greater power at the helm, which I choose to call 'Herra's life force' and which radiates inside, deciding on everything, taking control, and hurling bombs, causing flashes all around me, the only flowers in my garden.
(pg 183)

--------------------------

Narrator 80 year old Herra Bjornsson is on her deathbed, a hospital bed in a converted garage in Iceland where she is being attended by a home health aide. She has with her a laptop and WWII vintage hand grenade. Perhaps that right there suggests the kind of woman she is...and certainly there will be a story around that hand grenade. Herra tells her life story in this book—from her beginnings in Iceland to her lonely and sometimes harrowing girlhood in Europe during WWII. She tells us of her years in Argentina after the war and her return to Iceland. There are parents, children, strangers, lovers...war, rape, love, death, friendships...etc..

Herra is a sardonic and brutally honest narrator, a tenacious and resourceful survivor even in the very worst of situations. The reader doesn't know whether to laugh or cry or do both. This is probably not a book for those with gentle sensibilities, as Herra can be bawdy, blunt and caustic, but she also can be full of love and compassion. She has been called a woman ahead of her time, and perhaps so, but one can see how how she has also been shaped and molded by life. Her story is a wild, mesmerizing ride; and she is a character who will remain in your head long after the last page has been turned. ( )
  avaland | Nov 30, 2017 |
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Helgason, Hallgrímurautor primaritotes les edicionsconfirmat
FitzGibbon, BrianTraductorautor secundarialgunes edicionsconfirmat
Otten, MarcelTraductorautor secundarialgunes edicionsconfirmat
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"THE HOTTEST NEW BOOK FROM ICELAND IS WOMAN AT 1,000 DEGREES . . . What a story it is, one worth reading to further understand the complexity of World War II--and to enjoy the quick wit of a woman you won't forget." --Bethanne Patrick, The Washington Post "I live here alone in a garage, together with a laptop computer and an old hand grenade. It's pretty cozy." Herra Björnsson is at the beginning of the end of her life. Oh, she has two weeks left, maybe three--she has booked her cremation appointment, at a crispy 1,000 degrees, so it won't be long. But until then she has her cigarettes, a World War II-era weapon, some Facebook friends, and her memories to sustain her. And what a life this remarkable eighty-year-old narrator has led. In the internationally bestselling and award-winning Woman at 1,000 Degrees, which has been published in fourteen languages, noted Icelandic novelist Hallgrímur Helgason has created a true literary original. From Herra's childhood in the remote islands of Iceland, where she was born the granddaughter of Iceland's first president, to teen years spent living by her wits alone in war-torn Europe while her father fought on the side of the Nazis, to love affairs on several continents, Herra Björnsson moved Zelig-like through the major events and locales of the twentieth century. She wed and lost husbands, had children, fled a war, kissed a Beatle, weathered the Icelandic financial crash, and mastered the Internet. She has experienced luck and betrayal and upheaval and pain, and--with a bawdy, uncompromising spirit--she has survived it all. Now, as she awaits death in a garage in Reykjavík, she shows us a woman unbowed by the forces of history. Each part of Herra's story is a poignant piece of a puzzle that comes together in the final pages of this remarkable, unpredictable, and enthralling novel.

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