Wednesday, March 27, 2013

On "The Atom Station" by Halldor Laxness **

Set in a time shortly after World War II when Iceland was debating allowing NATO to place nuclear defense materials on its soil, Laxness's novel is mostly about a seemingly naive country girl from the north part of the country coming of age in the South. Politics, though, is a loud backdrop. The people don't want the bombs. The politicians, however, are working on a way to make the deal happen.

Meanwhile, the girl comes south to work as a nanny and to take harmonium lessons. The mistress in charge of her wants to make sure that the girl does not get involved with the communists, whose influence the woman sees as being pervasive among the young in the city. Such warnings prove to have the opposite effect, as the girl takes an immediate interest in going to a cell meeting. That said, she remains mostly politically uninvolved throughout the first portion of the novel.

Her real interest is the club that forges around her harmonium teacher, which features several men and ladies who like to discuss art, culture, and occasionally politics. One of these men accompanies the girl home one evening, and having lost her key, she ends up spending the night at his place--and losing her virginity in the process.

Meanwhile, the children she cares for are growing up as well. The mom runs off to America. The dad, a politician himself, takes an interest in the nanny. The children drink to excess, party, sleep around.

Somewhere in the book's center both the girl and one her charges end up pregnant. The charge gets an abortion at the urging of her father. The girl, however, returns north to have her child, Gudrun. There, the dad, a policeman, comes calling, now in the money.

The girl grows restless and returns to the south to the father who she was a nanny for (and who has fallen in love with her, to the point that he works on legislation to her liking), to her organ instructor, to her club, and finally to the father of her child, who she finally decides is worthy of her and her daughter (once his riches prove less than real and he is carted off to prison). She wants to make something of herself, to be a woman who is not simply a slave or a harlot. But what is there to be made into, when all the world is likely to blow up and start over again?

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