New to book publishing, Hringaná Book Publishers translates queer stories for an Icelandic audience.
Around two years ago Ari Blöndal Eggertsson left his long-time job as a manager of Vínbuðin, Iceland’s liquor store, and was looking for a new project. “I had enough of that, and needed something new,” says Ari. Surrounded by literature and writers at home, Ari founded Hringaná Bókaútgáfa, one of Iceland’s newest book publishing companies with his partner Ragnar H. Blöndal. Although Hringaná doesn’t exclusively publish LGBT+ works, most of their selection has books with characters who are gay and lesbian or are written by queer authors.
The idea came about when Ari’s daughter had written a novel and Ragnar had written poetry. Looking to share their stories, they became publishers out of necessity. From there Ari translated A Single Man (Maður Einn), a story by Christopher Isherwood about George, a university professor who recently lost his partner, Jim, in a car accident. The story is based on Isherwood’s imagination of what it would feel like to lose his life partner Don Bacardi.
“Someone was telling me: “Gay guys don’t read, but lesbians do.”
Ragnar has now written 3 books of poetry including Corpus delicti – Stories from the Valley of Tears, Hermdu Mér, and Tveir Dropar. Corpus is Hringaná’s most recent publication of Ragnar’s work and “deals with people’s painful experiences of other people. There are all kinds of people, both adults, and children, and occasionally the narrator himself is the tormentor.” Hermdu Mér, or Miror, mirror, on the other hand, tells stories of a child and imaginary worlds that contrast a life lived through movies and novels to one lived in reality. Tveir Dropar, in English Two Drops, is a coming of age and transformational story about a gay man born in the sixties. He grows up to finally meet his life partner, but wonders if he’s being born again into another and better world. All three of the works are available in Icelandic bookstores.
Now two years into publishing, Ari says it can be difficult to narrow down books to translate into Icelandic. “We read a lot of books to find just one to translate. You don’t always know if there’s a market for it here in Iceland. We find books on the web or in magazines, but it’s difficult to choose which ones are good enough to share.”
Then there are tons of classics that Ari is surprised haven’t been translated before. “Edna O’Brien has written maybe 40-50 novels but only one was translated into Icelandic. Joyce Carol Oates! I translated one of her books last year and there was only one short story before that was available here.”
Up next Ari is working on translating two books that should be ready to print in June. The first is an Icelandic thriller that takes place in Mosfellsbær from a new writer, and the second is The Terrible: A Storyteller’s Memoir by Yrsa Daley-Ward. Previously a model, escort, and sex worker, Yrsa writes her own story into the book including all the terrible things she faced in her past. It tells tales of her childhood in the northwest of England and discovering the power and fear of sexuality. Her true story of overcoming adversity works past “pitch grey days of pills and powder: going under, losing yourself, and finding your voice.” Ari is super excited for this work to be shared in Icelandic.
Some of the things Hringaná works on are hitting the Icelandic bookshelves before they’re even available in English. Working with an agent out of the UK, Ari reads and translates manuscripts into Icelandic. “The agency we work with in London sent me a short story, a novella, and it hasn’t been published yet in England, but it was published in Iceland last October.”
Another book, Names of the Women by Jeet Thayil, was published in Iceland the same day it was published in the UK. “That’s a book about the women in the new testament of the bible, the unnamed women, the nameless,” says Ari. The Guardian’s Marcel Theroux said the book told the stories of “the marginalized women in the Bible that have been misrepresented in history by systemic misogyny.”
“We are a little different from the other publishers in Iceland in that we’re translating famous books that haven’t been published in Iceland before. We have a lot of gay books. We’re not specializing in criminal novels, which sell the most in Iceland,” says Ari.
There also aren’t many other publishers in Iceland that are willing to print queer literature. Even authors Ingileif Friðriksdóttir and María Rut Kristinsdóttir found a company was uninterested in their book Vertu Þú (Be Yourself) because “there was no need for a book like it on the market.” As they understood it, they heard “there’s already one Icelandic book that mentions a queer family, so that’s enough. We’re not interested.”
At the end of the day, Hringaná aims to change that. Ari admits, however, that gay men aren’t known for being avid book worms. “Someone was telling me: “Gay guys don’t read, but lesbians do,” he says and laughs.
A sample of the books available from Hringaná:
I Was A Doctor in Auschwitz by Gisella Perl
Dr. Gisella Perl, a Hungarian Jew, experienced many of the worst things imaginable on this earth. Not only was she a prisoner, but she also worked as a doctor in Auschwitz, the most notorious Nazi extermination camp. She was treated under the direction of Dr. Josef Mengele but without all the necessary tools, medicines and hygiene. Her words, thoughtfulness, and kindness saved the lives of thousands of women.
The Final Retreat by Stephen Hough
Here is the story of Joseph Flynn, a middle-aged Catholic priest who has become addicted to sex with adulterers. The adulterous boys are diverse, most of them young, even family fathers, some are addicted to drugs and are dangerous. An interesting story on the go, it’s both a reflection on religion and a gay story about a priest “struggling as a wounded healer.”
Murder is Murder is Murder by Samuel M. Steward
Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas are at their country house in the French countryside, far from the hustle and bustle of Paris. There, in the company of their dogs, Basket and Pepe, and the divinely beautiful gardener, Petit Pierre, they can enjoy the fresh air and relaxed country life at their favorite place in France. But then Petit Pierre’s father mysteriously disappears. Alice and Gertrude, along with other strange characters, are unexpectedly drawn into the case and the search for him.
Simply Emma by Unnur Lilja Aradóttir
Emma is 35 years old, single, and happy with her life. But when she falls in love with her best friend’s 19-year-old son, her life changes. At the same time, long-forgotten childhood memories begin to haunt her. Unexpected events then turn her life around even more and she has to accept that nothing will be the same as before.