This beautiful novel is several love stories at once: the lifelong one between the narrator’s Omma and Abbe—her Faroese grandparents—the Omma’s for another man, and, principally, the complicated affections each character feels for the windswept archipelago itself. Growing up in Copenhagen as the third generation of her Danish-Faroese family, the speaker is intimately familiar with a “pathological homesickness” that leads her to retrace her grandparents’ lives. In a series of vivid snapshots intercut with her own occasional island sojourns, she recreates their courtship, year-long separation, European reunion, and highlights from the Second and Cold Wars. The novel is less about history, however, than it is about shifting currents of home and exile. Just as, after a lifetime away, the islands her Abbe “longed for existed somewhere outside geography,” the place Jacobsen evokes in her lyrical, spare, and utterly magical prose exists primarily in language. Open to any page, and the images pop: “at the end of March, winter simply fell off like a scab”; the cherry tree “grew and muttered to itself sentences of white and pink”; coves are “nature’s own solitary confinement cells.” And perhaps most salient: “home is a toponym…a place name,” and in Jacobsen’s vivid articulation, the word is everything.
Island, by Siri Ranva Hjelm Jacobsen