Woman at 1,000 Degrees Summary and Reviews

Woman at 1,000 Degrees

by Hallgrímur Helgason

Woman at 1,000 Degrees by Hallgrímur Helgason X
Woman at 1,000 Degrees by Hallgrímur Helgason
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  • Published in USA  Jan 2018
    368 pages
    Genre: Novels

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Book Summary

With echoes of All the Light We Cannot See and The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared, as well as European tours de force such as The Tin Drum, Woman at 1,000 Degrees is, ultimately, original, introducing a fresh new voice to American audiences.

"I live here alone in a garage, together with a laptop computer and a hand grenade. It's pretty cozy."

And ... she's off. Eighty-year-old Herra Bjornsson, one of the most original narrators in literary history, takes readers along with her on a dazzling ride of a novel that spans the events and locales of the twentieth century. As she lies alone in that garage in the heart of Reykjavik, waiting to die, Herra reflects - in a voice by turns darkly funny, bawdy, poignant, and always, always smart - on the mishaps, tragedies, and turns of luck that took her from Iceland to Nazi Germany, from the United States to Argentina and back to a post-crash, high-tech, modern Iceland.

Born to a prominent political family, Herra's childhood begins in the idyllic islands of western Iceland. But when her father makes the foolish decision to cast his lot with a Hitler on the rise, she soon finds herself abandoned and alone in war-torn Europe, relying on only her wits and occasional good fortune to survive.

For Herra is, ultimately, a fierce survivor, a modern woman ahead of her time who is utterly without self-pity despite the horrors she has endured. With death approaching, she remembers the husbands and children she has loved and lost, and tries, for the first time, to control her own fate by defying her family's wishes and setting a date for her cremation - at a toasty temperature of 1,000 degrees. Each chapter of Herra's story is a piece of a haunting puzzle that comes together beautifully in the book's final pages.

Originally published in Icelandic and based on a real person whom author Hallgrímur Helgason encountered by chance, Woman at 1,000 Degrees was a bestseller in Germany, France, and Denmark, and has been compared to "John Irving on speed." But it is deeply moving as well, the story of a woman swept up by the forces of history.

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Reviews

Media Reviews

"Starred Review. In her unsentimental, unsparing narrative, she offers insights into Icelandic culture and character, including a riff on reticence and a brief summary of Iceland's financial meltdown. Like the Icelandic landscape, she can be both appealing and treacherous." - Publishers Weekly

"Icelandic novelist Helgason shares with John Irving a knack for masterful plotting and clever, sarcastic humor ... [anyone willing to] revel in its flights of language will find much to enjoy." - Booklist

"Despite the unusual, humorous premise, the voice feels inauthentic and the story drags on. Fans of whimsical novels or those interested in Icelandic settings may enjoy it." - Library Journal

"This novel is a shock, a laugh, an evocation of grief, and a tribute to survival and imagination; Helgason's vivid talents give voice to a woman whose last words are so frightfully alive that even as they answer to both present and past, one can't imagine them bearing echoes. Because echoes are too pale for this book; what appears within can only reverberate as a series of unforgettable shouts." - Affinity Konar, author of Mischling

"What a novel! Helgason's Woman at 1000 Degrees is a gutsy, brilliant book: I could not tear myself away from it ... Both funny and deeply moving, I finished it utterly dazzled, my ears ringing." - Hannah Kent, author of Burial Rites

"Hallgrímur Helgason's audacious new novel is gripping, darkly comic, and utterly original." - Valerie Martin, author of The Ghost of the Mary Celeste

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Hallgrímur Helgason was born in Reykjavik, Iceland, in 1959. He started out as an artist and debuted as a novelist in 1990, gaining international attention with his third novel, 101 Reykjavik, which was translated into fourteen languages and made into a film. He has thrice been nominated for the Nordic Council Literature Prize, including for his novel Woman at 1,000 Degrees. Also a columnist and a father of three, he now divides his time between Reykjavik and Hrísey Island.

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