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Z: Astarsaga.

With Z: Astarsaga, Vigdis Grimsdottir has managed to surpass her award-winning 1994 novel Grandavegur 7 (see WLT69:4, p. 812), which instantaneously placed her in the forefront of contemporary Icelandic writers. Emotional insight and psychological depth are the hallmarks of Astarsaga, which tells the story of one night in the life of two sisters, Anna and Arnprudhur. Anna, who is terminally ill, has arrived at her lesbian lover Z's cottage intent on making this night her last. By the fire, she sits reading the seventeen letters she has received from Z during their three-year relationship. The journey that took her to the cottage thus becomes also a journey into the past and into her own psyche as she reflects on her life with Z. When at dawn all the letters have been read, Anna prepares for her final journey into the unknown: "I throw the letters into the fire and smile. And I fling my poems after them. . . . I did what you asked me to do. And now I am ready. I drain the pill bottle. Empty the bottle of aquavit. Look at the dying fire. Go upstairs and lie down under the sloping walls with your last letter in one hand and my last poem in the other . . . and when you come here you will know where I lie, you will see the poem, and although you have never understood my poems . . . you will understand this one."

Meanwhile, Arnprudhur and her husband keep vigil with Z, who has informed them of Anna's flight from the hospital. Having reported the matter to the police, the three sit conversing while waiting for a telephone call. The long wait is filled with Arnprudhur's reflections on her own experiences in the area of love, experiences very different from Anna's and Z's recital of Anna's poems. When Anna and Z first met, Anna had gotten the idea for a new book of poems all dealing with Monday, the day of the week that marked the beginning of their relationship: "The first poem had to be about the Monday when everything changed. And I resolved immediately to start thinking about a poem each time I received a letter from you. And although the poems did not necessarily have to be about you or the content of the letters, I decided that they should be as many in number as the letters." When at dawn the sixteenth poem has been recited, Z (who, as it turns out, is aware of Anna's decision to commit suicide) suggests that they drive to the cottage, where Anna's seventeenth and final poem is awaiting her.

This intricately structured novel is an honest and rich exploration of the beauty and pain of love and the complexities of human relationships. As the two sisters relate their love stories, the masks fall off one after the other, revealing the breath of love that is not only charity and compassion but also jealousy and anger. We are made witness here to a number of multivalenced and deeply moving dialogues: between Z and Arnprudhur, of course, but also between Z's letters and Anna's poems and, by remove, between Z and Anna themselves, each having shared a love, each knowing what the other will do on this last, cold winter night. Z: Astarsaga is a beautiful and finely crafted work, one that will add deservedly to Vigdis Grimsdottir's recognition as an extraordinarily accomplished novelist.

Kirsten Wolf University of Manitoba
COPYRIGHT 1997 University of Oklahoma
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Author:Wolf, Kirsten
Publication:World Literature Today
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Sep 22, 1997
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