Pigeons and Death: A New Reading Benchmark

I am quite pleased to say that as of two hours ago, I have finished my first (short) (children’s) chapter book in Icelandic. Read according to the schedule of my self-study class, it took me over two months. I’ve written vocab definitions all over the margins, had to look up the same words or phrases about fifty times before they sunk in, and now maybe know more names for types of doves and pigeons in Icelandic than I think may really be necessary, but, hey: success!

The book, Það var skræpa, (very) basically translates to It was a (common) pigeon. Not the catchiest title in direct translation, which may account for the English translation of the film version‘s title being rendered as “The Best Pigeon in the World.” Either way, it is a ruminative story about children’s loneliness and children’s friendships, pigeons, and death. (Spoiler alert, guys.)

I wrote a casual ‘review’ of the book for Goodreads, so if you are interested in non-translated Icelandic early-reader fiction, this one’s for you:

The story itself wasn’t totally my style, but I am interested in the author’s themes and almost poetical style. For such simple writing (much of it is in the present tense, basic vocabulary and wording is repeated throughout), there is still a freshness to the way that alliteration and line breaks are used, and even I can tell that the phrasing is creative.

It is a simple story, but it meanders a bit and is actually rather sad. A little boy named Bjössi wakes up one day and sees his best friend building a pigeon coop with another neighborhood boy, something that Bjössi and his friend had wanted to do for a long time. But the other boys won’t let him take part in the building. Shunned and lonely, Bjössi is befriended by some carpenters who give him the materials to build his own coop. He is also joined by a neighborhood girl, Ása, who has rescued a mottled pigeon from the other boys who injured its wing when they were clumsily trying to trap it. Ása and Bjossi decide to turn their coop into a hospital for the one pigeon, but in very short order, the coop they build is destroyed by a bulldozer (the carpenters save the pigeon just in time). And then, even after his dramatic rescue, the pigeon still dies.

Thematically, there’s a lot happening. These children are basically all on their own–Andres makes a point of saying that both of Bjössi’s parents work and he has to take care of himself–and although you see a few adults (his own mother, Ása’s mother, and the carpenters), this is very much a child’s world. Since Bjössi is a rather sensitive character, all of these emotional moments–his rejection by his friend, the various disasters with the coop, the death of the pigeon–feel like very painful events indeed. And they are–all the more so because he’s basically all alone.

But in the end, there’s some hope (a ray of sunshine literally bursts from the clouds): Bjössi has learned to value the right friendships, had affirmed his own empathy, and seems to appreciate life, for its beauty and brevity both. Deep thoughts for a children’s book, I must say.

On that note, let’s take a moment to enjoy that other great piece of Pigeon-and-Death artistry. (Good call, Georgia!)

 

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