"The Journey Home"
(Reviewed by Judi Clark NOV 19, 2000)
"I am getting ready to leave."
For the past twenty years, Disa has had a quiet life managing and serving the guests of Ditton House, an English country manor, with her companion Anthony. She has tried many times in the past to return to her native Iceland, each time losing resolve. This time she cannot afford a change of heart as it is realistically her last chance. She has been diagnosed with a terminal disease and before she takes the proverbial final journey home, there is one last person she must see and that person is in Iceland.
This is the best kind of book to read. Quietly and almost poetically it reveals insight into Disa's past and yet at the same time raises new mysteries; thus compelling the reader to learn more about this complex woman and her long kept secret. So often Disa's thoughts at the end of a chapter anticipate the secret by dangling a teaser of a sentence. And then we must wait for it to be resolved or cleared. For example while she is on the ship crossing to Iceland, she comments on one of her fellow shipmates of whom she has no compassion, "I knew what sort of person I had been sitting with. I knew the type." But not once is it spelled out of whom she is making this comparison, yet when we meet the character, we know.
In The Journey Home our senses are plied with smells, visual images, colors and tastes. This sensory experience provokes Disa's memories, some pleasant, but many so painful that she had hoped by now to have forgotten them. Lately, these associations are forcing her to confront her past, such as when she smells apples, she is haunted by a vision of another bowl of apples from her Icelandic past; or when she looks into her kitchen mirror, she sees a reflection of girl twenty years younger in another kitchen. She knows this has to do with her need to resolve this one last thing in Iceland. Symbolically, the fleeting images of the horses she sees in the morning remind her that she doesn't have much time. Olafsson is a master at this sort of reflective intrigue.
During her travel home, these types of free associations cause her to reflect on her childhood, her family relations, how she came to be a chef, her brief encounter with the love of her life, the affects of World War II and its complicity in her secret. Part of the skill of this novel, and therefore its pleasure, is that of a feeling of being on a journey, especially as Disa notes the aspects of the landscape as it slides from in front of her to behind her. In the same sense of this traveling motion, Disa's thoughts slide from the present into the past. This analogy and sense of motion is further highlighted when at one point while thinking about the past, Disa experiences car sickness and needs to take a break.
The fact that this is the same Olaf Olafsson as the businessman came as a big surprise to me. I realized this before I opened the book and I admit I didn't hold much hope for the novel. I brashly assumed that he had friends in the business that would indifferently publish his novel no matter its quality. My assumptions were so very wrong. I wasn't very far into the novel when I knew that this was the real thing. I read it from start to finish in nearly one sitting. And then I reread sections. Needless to say, I highly recommend The Journey Home to anyone who enjoys a well crafted novel.
- Amazon readers rating: from 15 reviews
Read a chapter excerpt from The Journey Home at MostlyFiction.com
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Bibliography: (with links to Amazon.com)
- Absolution (1991)
- The Journey Home (2000)
- Walking into the Night (2003)
- Valentines: Stories (2007)
- Restoration (2012)
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- Official website for Olaf Olafsson
- Wired article "WordNerd" on Olaf Olafsson (Oct 1995)
- The Nervous Breakdown interview with Olaf Olafsson
- Reading group guide for The Journey Home
- MostlyFiction.com review of Walking into the Night
- MostlyFiction.com review of Valentines
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About the Author:
Olaf Olafsson leads two dramatically distinct lives. He is vice chairman of Time Warner Digital Media in New York City and is Iceland's best-selling novelist. In Iceland, The Journey Home became the highest selling work of fiction in Iceland's history.
He is the founder and former president and CEO of Sony Interactive Entertainment, Inc., a unit of Sony Corporation established in 1991. While at Sony Interactive, Olafsson built and managed the worldwide operations of Sony's entertainment software and hardware divisions and was responsible for the introduction of acclaimed Playstation. He held several other positions at Sony, having begun his career at the company as a researcher in 1985.
Since November 1999, Olafsson has been vice chairman of Timer Warner Digital Media. He is responsible for developing strategic business plans for Time Warner's diverse digital media businesses and identifying growth opportunities for the company in the digital realm.
Olaf Olafsson was born in Reykjavik, Iceland in 1962. He studied as a Wien Scholar at Brandeis University where he received his degree in physics. He lives in New York City with his wife and two sons, while maintaining a residence in Iceland. He enjoys the arts, cooking, glacier skiing, salmon fishing, and soccer.