Wednesday, September 9, 2009

The Tricking of Freya by Christina Sunley

The Tricking of Freya by Christina Sunley
352 pages
Published March 2009 by St Martin's Press

Freya is the daughter of an Icelandic-Canadian and an American. Her father is dead, her mother has kept her away from her Canadian relatives for eight years. Then one summer her mother finally relents and the two travel to Gimli, where Freya finally gets to meet her grandmother (the keeper of the family records) and her unpredictable aunt, Birdie. Almost as soon as they have arrived, Freya accidentally breaks almost all of her grandmother's tea cups. When her mother sees what has happened, and the blood on Freya, she passes out, hitting her head. Although she eventually comes home from the hospital, she is never the same and Freya spends the rest of her life feeling that her mother's condition is her fault and it entirely changes the person she becomes.

Birdie is intense about maintaining the family's Icelandic heritage, particularly that of the writers. She is appalled that Freya does not speak the language or know the myths and makes it her job to indoctrinate the young girl during the summers. Freya absorbs it all and, despite Birdie's erratic behavior, adores her aunt. Until the summer when Birdie tricks Freya into joining her on a terrifying journey, Freya turns her back on all things Icelandic.

Twenty years later, Freya is leading an isolated and lonely life in Manhattan, when she is called back to Gimli to help celebrate her grandmother's birthday. While there, she uncovers the tip of a major family secret. Unraveling the secret will require a trip to Iceland, across it's lava fields and vast glaciers, until Freya uncovers the shocking truth.

This book is a finely crafted exploration of the immigrant experience. Like the great poets she is writing about, Sunley's writing is often poetic. The plot is unique, the characters intriguing. Although I had figured out the major twist before I reached it, it was no less devastating and Sunley was able to surprise throughout with smaller twists.

This is Sunley's debut novel. Her family history is Icelandic but she was not raised with family, not raised with the family stories that fill Freya's life. But she's heard enough to know that there was a story here and headed off to Iceland to do research. And it shows. At times it can feel like Sunley must have included everything she learned and I'll admit that there were places that I began skimming. But two days after I finished this book, I say a documentatry on t.v. set in Iceland. Iceland was exactly what I had been picturing in my head throughout the book. And it was then I realized what a superb job Sunley had done.

For more on this book and an interview with the author, check out Bookworm With A View here.


  1. Isn't it interesting how sometimes we really connect with a book only after we've read it and had time to think about it--or perhaps catch a show on TV like you did? That happened to me recently with a book I read. I wasn't much impressed with it while I was reading it, but then afterward, the more I thought about it, it suddenly hit me what the author had done--and I was quite impressed.

    This does sound like an good book. I once had a pen pal from Iceland and then my good friend's husband was stationed there through the military. It's a country I know a little about--at least book wise. Maybe someday I'll get to visit and see for myself.

  2. This sounds so interesting. I would really like to read a book set in Iceland and involving Icelandic heritage. There aren't a whole lot of those around! Thanks for the review!

  3. Great review Lisa!

    I will pass this along to Chirstina :)

  4. This is definitely going on my must read soon list!

  5. Lisa,

    I have never read about about Iceland, but this book review has made me think "I must". The cover itself is just so beautiful. Thanks for sharing.

  6. Now this is a book i want to read, since i love Mythology & contemporary writers work them into their stories...or even, god help them, rewrite the Original..thanks for adding another title to my TBR Pile...and thanks so much for your comment on My Blog


  7. I've never read a book placed in Iceland. That alone makes me want to read it but your review sealed the deal!!