Scenes from the Road: Einar Kárason

4.4.2008
Words by Sveinn Birkir Björnsson
On Cars “I consider myself very lucky to have witnessed both the rise and fall of the petrol fuel age,” says author Einar Kárason behind the wheel of his Chrysler PT Cruiser. “We have not witnessed any real advances in this technology for 100 years, and now it has become obsolete. But it is a wonderful way to travel.”
His love of cars, American cars in particular, was passed on from his father, a man who spent his life on the road, driving big-rigs and taxis for a living. A man who once refused to pick Einar up from Keflavík Airport in his mother’s Fiat. “My father never considered cars to be cars unless they were American or perhaps German. Anything else he considered to be shopping carts.”
On Writing Einar Kárason is a writer. Or rather, as we agree to put it, he has not done an honest day’s work in 25 years. His first published work was a book of poetry in 1979. In 1983 his first book in the Devil’s Island trilogy appeared and cemented his place as one of the most prominent Icelandic writers of his generation. “I only have one rule when I am writing. I write the first chapter last,” Einar explains. “You have to know the whole story before you start.”
On Selfoss We are driving towards Selfoss where we will stop for coffee before hitting the road again. Our trip is an exercise in futility. There is no destination; there is only the journey. And our conversation. We discuss Werner Herzog’s films, James Conrad’s books and what makes a beautiful car. Also, Einar tells me he does not care for horses.
On 13th Century Einar is writing a historical novel that takes place in the 13th century. It is his second book about that era. “The 13th century was a lot like the 20th century. It was a time of change, and a time of great prosperity. Iceland was very rich with culture at the time. Of course, there was a civil war raging through that whole century. “
On the Road Cars figure prominently in many of Einar’s books. So does the road: “That book was the result of our mutual admiration of Kerouac’s On the Road,” says Einar about a travelogue he cowrote with author Ólafur Gunnarsson about a road trip across the US in an old Cadillac. Two days after our trip to Selfoss, Einar is heading for Boston to drive around New England for two weeks. “I went on a Greyhound bus trip to Minnesota in 1982 to do research. It was too exotic for me to write about unless I experienced it, so I bought a ticket with the advance for my first book. I lived in a trailer park.”
On Crime Novels “When you write a novel, you are ultimately playing with variations of things you have seen or heard,” Einar says. Although crime fiction has proved to be a lucrative field for Icelandic writers, he has no intention of writing a detective story. “To me, the difference between writing a novel and writing a detective story is the same as the difference between writing a poem and writing a crossword puzzle. In both cases you are working with metaphors and words, but it is a completely different line of work.”
On Gljúfrasteinn We decide on a different route on our way back. We will pass through Þingvellir and make a stop at Gljúfrasteinn, the house of Nobel Prize winning author Halldór Laxness, where we marvel at the diminutive kitchen and gaze in wonder at the thousands of books Laxness kept. Einar admires the many different translations of Laxness’ works. I ask the caretaker how many languages there are: “42.” I ask Einar how many languages his books are available in. He looks up and smiles a little. “I think I’m up to 12.”
On Fame Einar does a lot of readings from his work. Once he was asked to read at his old secondary school. “I met one of my old teachers there. He said: ‘30 years ago, who would have believed that one day you’d be asked to come back?’ That made me laugh.”
Einar Kárason has written ten novels, collections of short stories, poetry screenplays, memoirs and biographies. Translations of his works are available in English, German, French, Swedish, Danish, Norwegian and other languages.

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