From Germany to Iceland
Alexandria author’s novel explores 1940s exodus.
Interview from Alexandria Gazette-Packet
The Connection Newspapers
By Michael Lee Pope
Wednesday, June 04, 2008
A native of Iceland, Solveig Eggerz has lived in Alexandria since 1974. She was a freelance writer for several years before joining the Alexandria Port Packet as a reporter during 1977-78. She continued to contribute to the paper until 1988. She has worked as a journalist and professor of writing and research. Her first novel, "Seal Woman" was published last month by Ghost Road Press.
Why did you write this novel?
I’ve been writing all my life. I wrote my first short story when I was 11, but the exact stimulating moment for this novel occurred in 1997 when I was in Iceland and saw an Icelandic movie called "Maria." It was about a German woman coming out of the rubble of Berlin who went to Iceland in 1949 to work on a farm. She was following an ad. I learned later that she was responding to an advertisements put in the newspapers by the Icelandic Agricultural Association. They needed laborers to work on the farms because people, especially women, were moving to the towns. What I saw in the movie was a tremendous cultural shock. The farm was very primitive, and this woman was from a city. There was this great silence. Part of the problem was that they didn’t speak the same language. But it was also true that the farm folk did not encourage these Germans to speak about their experiences.
Are there any autobiographical aspects to the novel?
My family lived for may years in Germany when my father was an Icelandic diplomat. He was very interested in the Holocaust and in World War II. So I sort of imbibed that tremendous interest. And that is woven into the story, everything that had happened in Germany before these people moved to Iceland. And I always sort of carried my origins inside. We were in a kind of exile because it was too expensive to go back to Iceland regularly. I identified with writers like Amy Tan and others who carried their country of origin inside them while living in another country. And I imagine there was a bit of that in these women from Germany.
The tone of the novel has a dreamlike quality. How did you accomplish that?
I don’t know. My tendency is to under-write. I’m a minimalist, so I don’t like to put in a lot of adjectives. Maybe this is because I was first a reporter. I like to pare things down and not add things. I don’t know if that accounts for the dreamlike quality. Everything isn’t spoken. My goal was to show what she was thinking, so I didn’t consciously create a dreamlike quality.
Dark Castle is the name of the farm where the Germans woman goes to stay. How did you come to choose that name?
I wanted it to be a little dark. Although the farm ends up being not quite as dark as she envisions it. Every farm in Iceland is named, and I had heard this name. I may have given it an odd translation. But I imagined that she would picture it as somewhat dark and scary. Maybe that’s why I chose the name.
How would you describe the genre of this novel?
I would say it’s historical fiction. I interviewed a number of people and read quite a bit about the period. So in that sense, this is something that really did happen. But my goal was not to make a documentary. I wanted it to be fiction. My goal was to resolve something, the puzzle of the characters. I wanted to depict the kind of emotional experiences that this character might have. How would she, with my help, resolve the dilemma she faces?
What has been the response to the novel?
I have been very moved by the response. People—including strangers—have actually said in sort of an honest way that they like it. Even my son is reading it, and he said he likes it, which is moving. The response has been tremendous in Iceland. I receive e-mails from people every day commenting on an interview that appeared in Morgunbladid, the biggest daily newspaper in Iceland. I wrote it to resolve what was in my mind about this kind of woman, so it’s a nice feeling that people seem to understand it. It’s a form of communication.