A young woman suffers a frightening array of unfortunate circumstances in her life as a child in Iceland, then moves to England where she and a close companion manage an English country-house. When she discovers that she has been stricken with a terminal illness, she embarks on a journey home to the place where so many sad things happened to her, to make peace once and for all with the people she still loves before she is gone. Olaf Olafsson's THE JOURNEY HOME is the sensitive and truly literary telling of this tale, a singular achievement that combines the pathos of Graham Greene with the lilting and pure voice of Kazuo Ishiguro.
Disa, the protagonist, travels back and forth between her present and her past through both narrative and letters. Although estranged from her mother at a young age, Disa continues to attempt a close relationship with her throughout her life and so writes her at every turn, putting the basic details of her life's adventures on paper as if trying to make her mother fall in love with her bravado. When Disa turns to the culinary arts as a way to make a living, she tries to impart the joy of that discovery to her family back home. Her other relationships, relationships that are by all means more successful and meaningful than Disa's relationships with her immediate family, get similarly in-depth treatment --- especially that with her friend Anthony, the man with whom she runs the estate. As she travels home to die, she passes through the stages and key incidents of her life with her faculties intact, describing not only the physical journey of traveling to Iceland but also the emotional one that is stirred up by her return.
THE JOURNEY HOME is able to put this highly emotional situation into truly moving language --- none of the situations are exploited for heavy-handed sentimentalism. Olafsson, a Vice Chairman of Time Warner Digital Media, is a natural-born writer: he has a gentle touch with the quiet moments that make up a life well-lived, with the difficult times that mark the passages of any human being's path on earth. THE JOURNEY HOME is a truly beautiful and moving novel, even as it is fierce and complex. Olaf Olafsson tells an important story in a simple and elegant way that will stay in your heart well after the last page is turned.
Reviewed by Jana Siciliano on January 22, 2011
The Journey Home