Asterisk denotes entries on real places.
*Iceland. North Atlantic island nation, whose countryside contains natural features that are both beautiful and terrifying–desert, heath, hot springs, freezing rivers, volcanic vents–all of it snowbound much of the year. On the northern part of Iceland, Bjartur and his family respond to the conditions variously. Bjartur himself finds nature a foe to tame with his strength and steadfastness. The summer pastures and native creatures imbue his youngest son, Nonni, with peace and contentment and inspire him to become a singer. The beauty of spring, especially its fragile wildflowers, reflects the innocent eroticism of Bjartur’s daughter, Asta Sollilja.
To most others in the area, however, the north is either a place of social exile, a backwater retaining relicts of medieval pastoral culture, as it is to the regional minister, the Reverend Godmundur, or it is a base from which to acquire larger wealth and status in greater Iceland, as it is for Bailiff Jon of Utirauthsmyri.
Rauthsmyri (roths-meer-ee). Small community, whose name means “Red Moors,” centered on a wealthy farm, Utirauthsmyri, just north of Summerhouses. Bailiff Jon is the resident rural squire, whose large farm and household employ many locals (Bjartur was one for eighteen years) and dominate local politics and culture. Summerhouses originally was part of Utirauthsmyri, and it returns to the bailiff after Bjartur defaults on unwise loans made at the bailiff’s urging. The prosperity of the bailiff’s holdings and his shifty machinations to regain Summerhouses at a bargain contrast with Bjartur’s wretched poverty and single-mindedness. Moreover, to Bjartur, Summerhouses is all the world he wants; the bailiff, on the other hand, uses his wealth and position to establish a farmers’ cooperative that supplants local merchants in supplying loans and goods to members and finding markets for their sheep. His son, Ingolfur Jonsson (Bjartur’s foster brother), builds on these efforts to become a member of parliament, governor of the Bank of Iceland, and, even as Bjartur is reduced to a tenant farmer, prime minister.
Fjord (fee-yohrd). Icelandic seacoast town dependent on fishing and on merchants who cater to farmers. Perhaps modeled on Akureyri, now a major Icelandic city at the end of a long fjord, Fjord and its nearest neighbor Vik (“bay,” possibly modeled on Husavik) indicate coastal topography, as well as identify settlements, and so contrast with the inland landscape of Summerhouses and Rauthsmyri. The townspeople set themselves apart from country folk, whose rustic clothes they laugh at because those in town pay attention to fashion, live in better houses, and consume more luxuries. For his part, Bjartur considers towns to be full of corruption, especially among greedy merchants who cheat farmers, and the refuge of lost souls who gave up the independent farm life to be wager earners.
*Reykjavik (RAY-kyeh-veek). Iceland’s capital city, a seaport in the southwest. Whatever corruption exists in small towns is compounded many times in Reykjavik in Bjartur’s eyes. The distant capital is the home of banks and the national government, both full of time-servers and middlemen who depend upon rural revenues and taxes and who make decisions that affect the independence of small landholders.