Monday, June 4, 2018

Hotel Silence

Title:  Hotel Silence
Author:  Audur Ava Olafsdottir (author). Brian FitzGibbon (translator).
Publication Information:  Grove Press, Black Cat. 2018. 288 pages.
ISBN:  0802127509 / 978-0802127501

Book Source:  I received this book as a publisher's galley through NetGalley free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "I know how ludicrous I look naked, nevertheless I start to undress, first my trousers and socks, then I unbutton my shirt, revealing the glistening white water lily on my pink flesh, half a knife's length away from the muscular organ that pumps eight thousand litres of blood a day, finally I take off my underpants - all in that order."

Favorite Quote:  "There are so many voices in the world and none of them is without meaning."

Jónas Ebeneser is all alone. He had a wife who has left him. He has a daughter is not his own. He has no work, but he has a toolbox. He has a neighbor who may or may not be a friend. All alone, Jónas contemplates suicide. He contemplates different ways of suicide, but discards each for what he leaves behind. Primarily, he does not want his daughter to be the one who finds him dead.

So, he decides to leave his home in Iceland. He will say that he is going on a trip and then simply disappear. He will venture to some far off place where he knows no one and kill himself. No one there will care because they won't know him. His daughter will reconcile to his disappearance.

He picks a location - a country torn apart by war trying to recover and salvage what remains. The location goes unnamed in the book. He picks a random hotel. He travels with a change of clothes for he doesn't need much if he will kill himself once there. He travels with the diaries of his youth for contemplating suicide is surely a time for reflection. He brings his toolbox for he will use the rope and tools to hang himself perhaps within a day or two of arrival.

So begins this story of redemption and rediscovery of life. What Jónas discovers in this remote hotel in this unnamed city is a community struggling to survive and recover from unimaginable heartache and destruction. He also discovers a purpose for things need fixing. Every day, he is asked to fix something else. Every day, he finds a reason to not kill himself.

Needless to say, this is a sad and heavy book. It has been termed endearing, witty, and lighthearted. I find it to be none of those. Sad, yes. Touching at times, yes. Lighthearted, most definitely not.

The book narrates the story of new relationships and discoveries for Jónas. It also offers glimpses into the past through the snippets he reads from his diaries. Despite all that, I never quite get a complete picture of who Jónas is and what drives him to the point of suicide. Divorce, disillusionment, and loneliness exist but is that enough to considering ending life? Through the book also is found his love for his daughter, but is that love not enough for life?

I find myself responding more to the other characters in the book - the survivors of war. The book in its own way offers commentary:

  • "We need to calculate the damage caused by the people who profit from war and make them pay for it ... That way they would understand that war is much more expensive than peace. In any case, the only language they understand is money."
  • "I can't read books anymore ... When I was a boy, I read a lot, but then I stopped with the war ... It takes only one sentence to blow up a village. Two sentences to destroy the world."
The original Icelandic title of this book translates to the word "scars." I suppose that is heart of the book including the very surprising ending. Each person bears the scars of his life. The scars of physical wounds are visible, but the scars of emotional wounds manifest themselves in different ways. Jonas thinks his path takes him to ending his life. Those he meets in this war torn city seek to heal by rebuilding and by still finding beauty and joy around them. He finds redemption in trying to help in their healing. In helping others, he finds himself. Therein, I suppose, lies the lesson of the book.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

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