The Icelandic writer Bergsveinn Birgisson reflects on the disappearance of the rural world in front of the cities, on the traditions and culture of the peasants of his land and the decisions we make throughout our lives and of those we regret, or not. For Helga (Lumen, translation by Fabio Teixido), novel recently translated into Spanish, addresses all these issues through the late response of a peasant, Bjarni, to the letter that Helga, the woman with whom he lived an impossible love, sent him in his youth inviting him to leave for her his wife and his lifestyle.
"Helga represents my desire to keep up with the world, to be a modern human being; whereas Bjarni is the opposite, the opposite force, "the author confesses. Birgisson, who grew up between the city and the countryside, says he is not able to find himself without contact with nature. In the novel, located in the 40s, the gossip of a small community and the rancor and frustration of an impossible love merge with the landscape, with the verdure of the valleys and the placid life of the sheep.
The idea came up in 2001, at that time Birgisson was writing a collection of short stories. One of them was about a peasant, Bjarni, "and I thought I wanted to know him better, study him more. And the environment in which he was immersed also seemed existential and psychologically interesting. " So he decided to expand his story and devote a whole book, whose material is composed of different layers of content, much of it taken from the author's personal life and another great part of the tradition of the generation to which the characters belong, that of her grandparents. In 2007 he concluded the book, which he did not publish until 2010 because, he says, "at that time there was a general madness in Iceland: the immersion in the culture of money, everyone wanted to get rich immediately and forget their past". In that "spiritual vacuum," he says, the culture of money ruined everything, until people began to wonder if there was not something else.
"In this short story I wanted to reflect the memory of a past time. The change that has been seen since the 20th century is much more radical than the one that was seen in the previous twelve centuries, "says the author. And he remembers the way of life of his grandparents, now in danger of extinction with the depopulation of these peasant regions, of which he feels fortunate to have been able to glimpse.
Beyond the thriller
To preserve the memory of this past and "To be able to resist the attacks of this mental aggression of the system in which we live", Birgisson believes that what more important is have some historical awareness And he stresses that creating this awareness is one of the main obligations of the contemporary artist, that in a country with an eminently literary town like Icelandic, this seems the correct way. However, he notes, "there has been a 40% reduction in the number of readers in the last four years alone." Also in Iceland there is a crisis of readers that the author blames on the emergence of platforms such as Netflix: "The television series they have become the expression of our era, it is no longer the novel. "But in the land of the crime novel, the State proposes measures to subsidize, as it does with the production costs of films, literature," contributing up to 20% directly to publishers ".
This measure, he hopes, "will help keep the editorial variety above all" in the face of the extensive production of thrillers. When these novels are published, sales "are very high, but that's where they come from," he says. "The good thing that other literature has, like For Helga, is that it is always sold by word of mouth. And I am very pleased to have had that experience of knowing that there are good readers. "