I could tell you that The Promise of Iceland is about a secret liaison between an Australian-British woman and a married Icelandic man, or perhaps that it is a story of a youth overshadowed by the promise made by this woman and their son not to reveal the man’s identity. Or I could tell you that it is the story of their son as a young man reaching out to his fathers’ Icelandic family, who were unaware of his existence. I could tell you all of those things and they would be true, but I think what Kari Gislason’s achingly beautiful memoir is really about is love – in all of its devastating and astonishing forms.
With elegance and tenderness, Kari discusses the loves that have defined his life; the love for his intriguing and adventurous mother, the secret and silent love for his father, and the love and longing for Iceland. While painting a spectacularly vivid portrait of the natural beauties of Iceland and its people, Kari explores the complicated nature of how people fall in love, the promises they make, and the reality of what happens when those promises fall apart.
All of those things make this a fabulous memoir, but what makes it unforgettable is the tremendous respect and grace in which Kari tells a story that is only in part his to tell. His sensitive portrayal of his mother as he shares the most intimate and defining moments of his family history is truly a wonder. Whilst a measure of bitterness towards his father would be justifiable and easily forgiven, Kari leaves it off the page, instead focusing on the delicate nature of the circumstances and the ultimate search for belonging.
Wise and unassuming, humorous and remarkably affecting all at the same time, The Promise of Iceland is an enchanting reflection of a fascinating life and a profound exploration of the human condition.