And the Swans Began to Sing by Thora Karitas Arnadottir

And the Swans

My grateful thanks to Tracey and Phil at Wild Pressed Books for a surprise copy of And the Swans Began to Sing in return for an honest review.

Out on 10th January 2019, And the Swans Began to Sing is available for pre-order here.

And the Swans Began to Sing

And the Swans

The swans on the lake began to sing. It was a singing so loud they were almost screaming, as if they were encouraging me to release what I had been keeping inside for so long.

Gudbjorg Thorisdottir has been hiding from the ghost of an ugly secret for most of her life. When she finally faces the truth of what happened in her childhood, the ghost floats away. Painting an evocative picture of life in Iceland, this is the story of a little girl who didn’t know how unnatural it was to experience both heaven and hell in the same house.

And the Swans Began to Sing is the English translation of her creative nonfiction Mörk – my mother’s story (published in Iceland by Forlagid), which was nominated for the Icelandic Women’s Literary prize in 2016.

My Review of And the Swans Began to Sing

A creative account of the true story of Gudbjorg Thorisdottir’s childhood abuse.

I was completely taken aback by And the Swans Began to Sing, not least because I hadn’t initially realised that this is a creative depiction of true events. I kept thinking that it read as if it were a person’s true account rather than a fiction and I felt as if I were listening in on an intimate and personal conversation. Once I realised the nature of the book, the style made perfect sense.

And the Swans Began to Sing is beautifully written. The language is poetic and affecting, aside from the shocking events that hold the reader spellbound almost against their will. I was struck by the eloquent manner with which Thora Karitas Arnadottir depicts how easily society can witness, and ignore, suspected abuse. It actually made me question the whole fabric of society. This book certainly shocks and startles and, as Gudbjorg herself might wish, it causes the reader to stand in someone else’s shoes with empathy and understanding, even when they have no personally similar experiences.

A personal history and an emotive illustration of how our childhood shapes us as adults, And the Swans Began to Sing is also a wonderful insight into Icelandic culture and lifestyle with a vivid sense of place. There’s also a slight undercurrent of mysticism that I found interesting too. The writing transported me to the places I have visited in Iceland so that it is almost a travelogue as well as a personal narrative.

In many ways And the Swans Began to Sing is bleak and dreadful, but ultimately it is reassuring to those who have suffered similarly as Gudbjorg processes, and finally comes to terms with, her past, her grandfather and her life in the present.

I felt And the Swans Began to Sing was very moving and haunting. It is literary, intense and shocking. It is, too, entirely human and reading it made me grateful to be who I am with the past I have.

About Thora Karitas Arnadottir


Thora Karitas Arnadottir studied drama in Britain and is best known for the award winning TV series, Astridur, in her home country and for hosting Unique Iceland, a highly popular travel magazine show about Iceland.

Thora is currently working on her first novel, which will be released in Iceland in 2019.

11 thoughts on “And the Swans Began to Sing by Thora Karitas Arnadottir

  1. On behalf of Wild Pressed Books and Thora, thank you very much for your review, Linda. I too felt that as well as the bleak and sad element of Gudbjorg’s story, this book paints a mystical and evocative image of Iceland as a place and a presence. Beautiful review. X

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I’ve seen this book around on social media and for some reason I didn’t think it was my kind of book but your review has really made me want to read it. It sounds really moving. I’m adding it to my wish list now and might treat myself with my Christmas money. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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