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Arts & Culture

'Children in Reindeer Woods' by Kristín Ómarsdóttir

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What is it about icebound exports and child captivity? From the intoxicating rhythms of “Birthday,” an oddly suggestive New Wave lullaby by the Sugarcubes, to Hanna, a recent techno thriller about eugenic perfection sequestered in Finland, the story of a bright young girl held in check by her woolly elder abounds — as abominable as any snowman and as inevitable as a coming thaw. In Kristín Ómarsdóttir's Children in Reindeer Woods, advocates of the arbitrary morality of the Brothers Grimm,  as well the ambiguities J.M. Coetzee's war-torn fables, will be treated to a suburb story of pastoral charm and eerie erotism. Billie, an eleven-year-old girl who survives the massacre of a “temporary home for children” must now survive the shell-shocked antics of Rafael, a man who has abandoned the soldier’s life to try his hand at farming.

Like all suspiciously simple tales, Children in Reindeer Woods is fraught with wisdom, from the ethics of cutting the hair off Barbie dolls, to the health benefits of the fetal position, but nothing is so observant and chilling as the manner in which Billie deals with the pangs and persistence of memory. “Some people want to use their memories sparingly and have everything in its right place — you might run out of memory if trinkets and toys moved about too often,” Billie in captivity considers. “If someone constantly has to hunt for things, then they might miss the benefits of memory, which allows you to cherish wonderful moments the way a princess cherishes her earrings. Someone had told the girl this, her mother, her father, a character in a movie. She remembered who, but it wasn't worth the risk of remembering.”

Children in Reindeer Woods is an inverted Heidi tale that turns Stockholm Syndrome on its head.

Children in Reindeer Woods

by Kristín Ómarsdóttir
Translated from Icelandic
by Lytton Smith
Open Letter
$14.95, 198 pages

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