The Nationsoul of My Dear Jon by Birkir Blær

Translated from the Icelandic by Meg Matich. 
This is part of our special feature, New Nordic Voices.




The most preposterous figure in Icelandic folklore is the indomitable wife of My Dear Jon who travels to the kingdom of heaven with the soul of her husband in a sack, to smuggle him into Paradise; she’s a woman who slings insults at the saints and slut shames the Virgin Mary before Jesus Christ himself arrives at the gates of heaven to bid her, with ceremonious tact, to get lost. She pays him no mind, instead hurls Jon’s soul through the gates, as if the Son of Man were a goalie on the losing side in the amateurs.

So she thumbs her nose at everyone, especially the Almighty.

But let’s break it down:

A hick from the Icelandic sticks rides up to heaven and teaches the Lord the following lesson: nobody can close the gates of heaven to an Icelander, though he may be “surly and not well-liked; lazy and never help[ful] around the house,” in other words: a hopeless so-and-so who has no business being in heaven.

There’s something remarkably Icelandic about that.




There’s also something particularly Icelandic about Leifsstöð, the Keflavík airport.  Personally, I think it’s a first-rate airport, and many would agree with me – it’s been repeatedly voted the best airport in Europe. The last time I went through it, I came across a colossal advertisement in garish letters, occupying an entire wall: “ONE OF THE BEST,” it resounded, trumpeting the airport’s status as exceptional among European hubs—Iceland is one the greats.

As I passed by advertisements at the airport, a theme cropped up. First came the awe-inspiring images of Icelandic nature: “Who needs coal when you’ve got fire? Welcome to the country of sustainable energy,” at the behest of the national power company, Landsvirkjun. Next: images of the northern lights, deep snow-drifts, or something along those lines. Above it all, the words: “Experience Iceland – our natural wonders inspire everything we do.” The ads extolled, for the most part, Icelandic nature, Iceland as a nation, or the virtues of Icelanders. The airport operators, needless to say, thought it appropriate to paper the walls in patriotic praise.

The airport’s flagship advertisement was for Skyr: a backlit billboard filled by two beautiful women, a clear blue sky and idyll behind them, and below, the words: “Skyr, Iceland’s secret to healthy living”.

First of all, Skyr is probably not Iceland’s secret to healthy living. Second, it’s absurd to assume that Icelanders are particularly healthy – since we have, for example, the highest rate of obesity in all of the Nordic countries, and drink them under the table, according to research. And what’s left of the slogan, sans bold propositions? Nothing but SKYR and ICELAND.

The lack of actual content is surprising, but the thinking behind the advertisement itself is off-putting. Why do we always need to make out like Skyr is something unique? I know it’s just an ad, and that sugary dairy products have to be sold somehow, but the fact still stands: we are a nation that believes Skyr is noteworthy, and we believe in Icelandic produce, and nothing can compete with our greenhouse tomatoes.

And when I finally boarded the plane, an advertisement appeared on the seatback screen: “The most amazing thing about Iceland… isn’t the pure water that comes out of our taps… but the fact that we blend orange soda together with malt to capture the taste of Christmas.” And on my coffee cup, the words “In Iceland, natural hot springs are everywhere. They were formed when hot water made its way out of the depths of the earth. The Icelanders have used them to cook and to bathe for centuries.” In this whirlwind of patriotism, I felt like something was off, something was false. The feeling wasn’t unlike when somebody laughs unnecessarily much at a joke and you make out that the laughter is inauthentic, and you feel badly for them because it’s so sad to fake laughter.

Why are we so proud of nothing? The answer might be in the heart of our heroine as she keeps vigil over Jon on his deathbed, “as his strength drain[s] away, [and] it occur[s] to her that her husband [is]n’t well-prepared for his death, that there [is] some doubt as to whether he[‘ll] be allowed to enter heaven.” She knows that he doesn’t deserve to go to paradise, but the very idea is unbearable – after all, he is her husband – he has to have a place in heaven. Let’s not pretend we’re just in the wings when we’re the stars of the show! And, soul in sack, she sets off on her trek to God.

Maybe the same type of anxiety lives in the hearts of small states? Stood before the seat of judgement, will we measure up as a nation, among other nations?  Is that perhaps why we self-aggrandize? To prove to the world — and especially ourselves – that we count?

Wives–whose spouses have an assured place in the kingdom of god–don’t need to make a trip to the pearly gates to heckle the angels into letting their husbands into heaven. Nations that are secure in their own skin and know there’s no question of their nationhood don’t need to jump for joy every time they’re named in the international press. They don’t need to behave as if Skyr is remarkable, they don’t need to ask, “How do you like Iceland?” and produce marketing campaign after marketing campaign to prove to the world that their peoples are swell and inspiring.

I beg your pardon, but Skyr tastes just like yogurt that’s been sitting in the sun for a few weeks, thickened to a texture reminiscent of sawdust. It takes three times more milk to make than yogurt, and the reason that it became a customary dish is probably because we were in the habit of eating spoiled food; Skyr-like foods were present all across Scandinavia in the settlement age, but the recipe seems to have changed everywhere else, probably because other Nordic nationals learned to make yogurt taste better. Everyone except for us–because we were isolated, and now we’re simply condemned to plaster the threshold of our country with praise of Skyr, simply because it’s one of the few markers of our nationhood.




The Soul of My Dear Jon is unique to Iceland, if I may paraphrase Terry Gunnell, a professor in Folkloristics at the University of Iceland. It’s unlike the vast majority folk tales, which have roots elsewhere and numerous adaptations. The story of Gilitrutt, for example, is in reality a variation of the brothers Grimm’s Rumpelstiltskin. The story of Sæmundur the wise and the seal was originally drawn from the story of Gerbert of Aurillac and descended from the tales of the English kings; the Deacon of Myrká is certainly not from Myrká, but is rather a sort of international ghost that continually crops up. The Soul of My Dear Jon is, however, uniquely Icelandic. We seem to be the only nation that’s composed a story about a country bumpkin who travels to heaven to pick a fight with God himself.

The godhead is a heavy-weight concept, and has diverse manifestations in world culture, but I believe that the grounding idea is rather simple, once you strip away all the dogma and politics: something exists in this world that is bigger than you. And even though we may view ourselves as atheist or agnostic, the idea of a god figures serenity within us in its elegance. It appeals to our sense of smallness in the world—humility vis-à-vis powerlessness—and leads us to, perhaps, comprehend that we’re not, in point of fact, the navel of the earth. We jettison our vanity, our egocentrism.

Note that Jon’s wife doesn’t doubt the existence of God – it simply never occurs to her to put him ahead of her whims. She doesn’t think twice before traipsing up to heaven and insulting all those in heavenly employ and thrusting Jon’s soul past the gates into the Kingdom, much to the chagrin of Jesus Christ; she stomps the Godhead – and justice along with it – under her own capricious shoe.

“A stone was then lifted from the woman’s heart, for Jon had come to the kingdom of heaven, and she returned home in gladness,” followed by, of course, the thundering applause of the Icelandic nation because Jon’s wife is a hero in our cultural heritage and the entire nation sympathizes with her. We admire her so much that the poet Davíð Stefánsson took occasion to compose something of an epic poem and write, to boot, a full-length play about her journey.

But world literature already has a character who consider himself to be above divine law, who isn’t able to recognize his own smallness in relation to divinity – I am speaking, of course, of Lucifer, who fell from heaven for his arrogance, which we recognize as a cardinal sin of the highest caliber.


“And one day, the man fell ill and took a turn for the worse,” and we shall sit by the side of his bed, beside his wife, and watch over him. The air is acrid and heavy with moisture. The timber paneling is moldy. It’s almost certainly dim in the room, and the man’s chest rattles with each breath – his body is in the clutches of death. This is the moment when “it occurs to her that he is not well-prepared for death, that there’s a question as to whether he will be allowed into heaven.”

We can, of course, envisage her terror. She imagines him writhing as he’s cleansed in the fire for all eternity like an earthworm in a frying pan, simply because he was a brute and a scoundrel in life. She’s grief-stricken, and we understand her, because he was her husband and even when a larger-than-life villain is struck down, somebody mourns. But My Dear Jon’s wife is determined and doesn’t dilly-dally with tears, but rather “thinks to herself that it would be most expedient if she were to save his soul herself,” and so she ambles up to heaven.

This turn of events takes place in just a few sentences, and betrays a very clear mentality: My Dear Jon’s wife is convinced that the rules don’t apply to her. First, she appears to be unfettered by natural laws, and doesn’t think twice before hightailing it to heaven. Second, she thinks nothing of laying aside the rules of heavenly justice, tramples them into the mud like so much rusted barbedwire on the way up to the heavenly kingdom, determined to inscribe her own version of the truth on the celestial page.

And while her actions are in some ways admirable, they’re also disconcerting. She’s just a farmer’s wife and can’t really go up to heaven to overturn the judgement of the heavenly father and she, somewhere deep inside, must know that. But she hardly considers the possibility. She never looks inward. Þetta reddast, she thinks, christalmighty it’ll be okay.

There’s a very simple term to describe this way of thinking: exceptionalism. Exceptionalism posits that certain individuals (or nations) are singularly remarkable, and not, therefore, subject to universal laws. The folk tale The Soul of My Dear Jon is, at its heart, the story of a crone from a remote Icelandic village who has a particularly bad case of exceptionalism, and it’s in her person that I believe the story captures the core of the Icelandic national soul anew. Aren’t we all of the opinion that this is the best place on Earth? The cleanest water, the most able-bodied people, the most wholesome food, the most beautiful natural wonders, the most sacred tongue, the most progressive politics, the highest quality of life and the most protein-rich Skyr? At least according to Bjarni Benediktsson, the former Prime Minister, who said in the recent past that you’d have to be insane to overlook how good life is in Iceland, and I believe that he’s the incarnation of the wife of My Dear Jon as she stands at the threshold of the kingdom of heaven, running her mouth.

Many nations believe they’re special, and the United States is probably the first that comes to mind because the concept of exceptionalism was initially connected with the U.S., since they look at themselves as the leaders of the free world. They do happen to have a revolutionary historical and political heritage to back that up – at least partially. Because scholars have written about a bajillion books debating the soundness of American exceptionalism, it’s a reasonably well-defined concept.

What about the endearing farmer’s wife who didn’t look both ways before setting off to heaven on foot? At what point did it occur to her that she was exceptional and could sit at God’s right hand?

The Icelandic ambassador to France was asked, in 2016, why Iceland had done so well in the European Football Championship. She answered that it was simply a matter of being from Iceland, where the air and water were pure and the lamb meat and fish were hearty, and where, notably, past hardships had made us resilient to all other adversities.

That’s such a terrible explanation of our success in soccer that I’d be hard-pressed to jerry rig anything worse. It’s typical of the discourse that permeates our society, the silent undercurrent in its depths, and we float on the surface like little paper boats, and we know that the vibe in Iceland is just fab and the water is like nowhere else – the Icelandic sheep and fish are singular in their excellence, and the vegetables are unbelievable and Icelandic milk can’t be rivaled, and the Icelandic language is so old that it’s a fixture of global culture and Iceland is just so wonderful, it’s inspiring to visit and incomparable to have grown up here, and so on so forth. We’ve heard it all before. It’s the familiar refrain that’s played on a dinged French horn at the back of your mind.

After the Icelanders suddenly started to fare well in the 20th century, people fought to explain it, coming to doubtful conclusions that spun like broken records on the national gramophone for decades. Guðni Th. Jóhannesson, the current president, hit the nail on the head in his book The History of Iceland:

“Generally, men have said that the inhospitable climate thinned out the Icelanders so that the weakest individuals were wiped out and those that survived were hardened by the perpetual struggle with nature,” he writes; that’s the classic how-and-why of the wife of My Dear Jon’s journey to heaven.


Believe me, this essay shouldn’t involve the Icelandic financial crisis, so-called hrun or kreppa in Icelandic. It was supposed to be about Icelandic horses and Icelandic vegetables, Eurovision, and the Icelandic manuscripts and the Icelandic grass flute, which is more beautiful sounding than other grass flutes. In other words, it should be spennandi, exciting. There’ve been more than enough articles written about the Icelandic economic crisis. We’ve learned our lessons and quickly forgotten them. But as I was researching this essay, gathering together sources, I quickly realized that it would be impossible to overlook the crisis in an piece like this. It would be impossible to ignore the nation’s state of mind beforehand, because it was the epitome of Hans-Jóns-Míns-Wife syndrome, pure and unaltered. Before the crisis, we were all the wife of My Dear Jon, halfway to heaven with a dead villain in a bag, willing to shit on the saints and the Lord almighty, since he needs, at least, to make some time to take a refresher course in economics, since he, after all, has everlasting life[1].

Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson, the president at the time of the crash, marched at the front of the party, as is clearly documented in a parliamentary report, and developed a complete theory of the Icelanders’ superiority that he built upon “particular characteristics inherited from the Vikings.” He proclaimed to all the world that “the key to our success, which our economic expansion orchestrated, is in our culture, the inheritance that each successive generation receives as a gift at birth, the society that our centuries-long struggle for survival brought us…attitudes and customs that are at the core of Iceland’s civilization,” he said in one speech. “Our work culture is descended from the fishermen and farmers of former ages, when we struggled to bring in the day’s catch and hay harvest; the passage of time has clearly transformed this determination into an entrepreneurial spirit on the punishing fields of world trade. The roots of Icelandic culture create entrepreneurship and enterprise that suit the needs of international markets. The low population of earlier times benefits us in a time of globalization,” he said in the next.

One day, Ólafur showed up with a long list of Icelandic characteristics that “clarified” – in the words of Guðni Th. in The History of Iceland – “why Icelandic entrepreneurs have fared better than their opponents. Their characteristics are built on the country’s history and revolve, among other things, around a deeply-rooted working culture, risk-taking, an admiration for explorers like the Vikings and settlers, and reputation and honor.”

You might say it’s thrilling to read that list because it’s profoundly absurd. For example, “creative power” is allegedly one of the qualities particular to Icelanders, according to the old President, because “Icelanders revere their poets and their creations; but now the power of ‘entrepreneurs’ (in Icelandic, the word is the poets of action—‘athafnaskáld’) earns their respect.”

I don’t want to sound like a know-it-all, but poets aren’t an Icelandic phenomenon. While the Icelanders were writing the King’s Sagas, Dante was writing The Divine Comedy. Jónas Hallgrímsson composed “snemma lóan litla í,” more than two hundred years after Shakespeare wrote the prosodic “to be or not to be.” Nor am I certain that Icelanders revere their poets more than other nations – here, they all died of hunger, drank themselves into a stupor in solicitude, or fell down the stairs, so that, best case scenario, it’s just ridiculous to point out an especial reverence for poets to make a case for the superiority of Iceland in a global society.

Many ‘pseudointellectuals’ added fuel to the fire and Hannes Hólmsteinn Gissurarson[2] eventually appeared on Ísland í dag (Iceland Today) to discuss the wonders of the Icelandic economy and to clarify, in quasi-scientific terms, how the so-called “útrásarvíkingar” – a pejorative term for the bankers whose actions led to the crash – had in fact harnessed dead capital and blahblahblah and “consider that the banking system has grown seven-to-tenfold in about four, five years. And consider how wonderful it would be if we continued on the same path, and really leaned into it!” he said, delighted like a kid at Christmas. And he wanted to sell this Icelandic know-how abroad.

It’s tempting to imagine this particular group of scholars on a panel discussing the long walk that the wife of My Dear Jon set out on. Now, naturally there’s no doubt, one of them says with a contemplative expression, that Jon’s wife has a great deal of experience walking; she’s walked since she was little, and not just that, she’s walked moors, she’s walked mires, and she’s shown particular acumen at mountain hiking. She’s walked heaths to herd the sheep, and it’s in her blood to walk uphill: in fact, it’s completely self-evident that she’d make her way up to heaven next. The next takes over, completely flustered, just imagine how wonderful it would have been had she continued on her journey, pressed onward, and stormed right past the old joker in the sky and through the atmosphere to explore outer space, shooting Iceland to the forefront of scientific research. The third clarifies that Jon’s wife has a great deal of fondness for poets, since a poet lived in the next village over and wrote in a sort of slang and she read it all, but poets are star-gazers who compose with their heads in the clouds, up, up mine own soul and all that and so it’s obvious that she went up to heaven, and not somewhere else. And the fourth added that it is a well-known fact that Jon’s wife killed God long before Nietzsche (and we all agree with him since we all also know that Leifur Eiriksson discovered America long before Christopher Columbus, without speculating about the meaning of to find and whether something can be found if it is still lost), and so the scholars work hard to improvise a rationale for the wife’s inexplicable ability to walk straight up to heaven without taking heed of the fact that she has nothing under her feet.


Before we depart from the pre-crisis years, let’s browse through a report that the Icelandic government commissioned about the image of the country and its people. The report was completed in March 2008. And there, in bold letters on the first page is a summary of the findings: “IMPORTANT TO UNDERSCORE THAT ICELAND IS THE ‘BEST IN THE WORLD’ – A COUNTRY THAT OFFERS ITS CITIZENS THE HIGHEST QUALITY OF LIFE POSSIBLE.” It was around six months before the collapse. That document should be considered one of the pearls of Icelandic History, the offspring of a manic society, the Zeitgeist gathered together into a single report by respectable clerks that stamped the national sigil on a fallacy.

First, they attempt to qualify the image that foreigners have of Iceland—yep, if you’re going to pimp up the national ship, you’ve got to know where to start. “The image of Iceland is generally positive, but still weak with little presence abroad, according to data. Iceland seems to be largely unknown,” the committee remarked, and now I’m going to be bold: we are a small nation at the end of the earth, so maybe it’s only natural that we would not, in fact, feature prominently in the world’s consciousness. But the committee that wrote the report didn’t agree, and wanted to focus on “creating a positive and strong image of the people, industry, culture, and environment.”

And the image of Iceland that the committee decided to constitute leveraged “an effective imaginative construction of Iceland [that] should be built upon the characteristics of the land and nation that are true or ‘actual’ and have deep roots. The intelligence that’s come out over the past few weeks brought to light the concurrence of the nation on these characteristics. Individuals believe that work satisfaction and the desire for freedom have followed Icelanders ever since the settlement age. A propensity for adaptation and tenacity are said to be carried in the Icelanders’ blood, making them resilient to even the most rugged landscapes and harsh climate. This characterization is reflected in our joy for creation, unshakeable optimism, and a belief in resourceful Icelanders’ ability to do the impossible.”

Now I suspect that there are still many out there who’d even now be willing to undersign that description, so I don’t want to flap my jaws without first laying out a foundation. Thus, it’s not inessential to have The History of Iceland by President Guðni Th. at hand – a text wherein Guðni lays out this apropos assessment of their findings: “Lettered historians object or shake their heads at this age-old jingoist framing of history.”

There you have it. But the committee went on – they were just getting started. The report is long–88 pages in total—built upon one nonsensical statement after another. “The unbridled forces of nature are analogous to the unruly and often audacious and unpredictable behaviors of the Icelanders. These characteristics aren’t cause for alarm, but rather play a material function in the nation’s struggle for life. These qualities are welcome and should be exploited.” And I want to emphasize this: fractiousness and unpredictability are perhaps fun parlor tricks, but this report was submitted six months before the nation went down the proverbial economic toilet.

One of the main conclusions posed in the summary of the document is that “it is necessary to highlight the characteristics that separate Iceland and Icelanders from other nations, and those qualities that others can’t easily lay claim to. Geothermal energy is an Icelandic quality. It separates the land and people from others and situates Iceland in a unique context.” This idea is viewed as so fundamental that the group sees reason to illustrate it with a full spread of a volcano, which crystallizes Iceland in the imagination, smoldering fissure swarms in the nation’s core—it is the power of nature, Iceland’s private property, no-more-no-less, that sets us apart from the Other.

As I said, the goal was to construct a true and actual characterization of the nation, and the committee came to the conclusion that geothermal was distinct to Iceland—talk about a distortion of reality–and it is at this point that the wife of My Dear Jon sets off to heaven, for at the end of the report the clerk sums up “the most daring ideas that align with the ideology here defined are a means of gaining positive attention from the world press.” They are, among others, the global eradication of illiteracy, which the committee posits is a significant project for a nation with such a rich literary culture, and to invite children from conflict zones for a weeklong visit to Iceland, and turn them into Icelandic peacekeepers in a war-torn world.

This report was commissioned by the Office of the Prime Minister and some might describe it as state-supported mania on steroids. Not me, I’m too polite, but the naiveté and conceitedness of the thing still strike me–how proud the committee seems to be of Iceland, how blindly. Iceland is the best in the world, we thought, and we didn’t need to consider it any further, instead simply deciding how best to lavish our superiority.

And then the crash came, and it knocked us down a peg.


Yes, the wife of My Dear Jon lives a good life in the soul of the nation even though we plunged to ground zero no more than nine years ago. She’s such a tricky devil. She settles herself backmost in our minds, whispers in a smooth voice: “You can come to heaven if you want. You don’t have to listen to The Lord. Who is he anyway? Does he have any real sense of the world?  You’ve at least been in it. He should bow to you instead.” And it’s so nice to listen to her when you live on a cold, dark rock at the end of the earth that’s so little that it doesn’t belong—not hardly—to a community of nations.

For the most part, we’re cultivated enough to pretend that she isn’t there, at least not during that period – let’s not trumpet her vitriol to the world. But some of us don’t recollect ourselves. Sigmundur Davíð gave, for example, a speech at the Progressive Party[3] convention, wherein he expounded upon the tyranny of global economic systems and asked if it were possible to change it, to ensure younger generations a better quality of life, and he answered himself: “Yes, it’s possible. It’s happened in one country. One country was able to reckon with the global financial system, and, more to the point, its ugliest manifestations. And to get the better of it. We members of the Progressive party and we Icelanders are an example for the world to follow; it is possible to wrangle with the most powerful system on Earth and to conquer it.” This is, of course, the wife of My Dear Jon speaking, newly descended from the kingdom of heaven to proclaim before a house full of paunchy old men that she got the better of God almighty, the most powerful being in the universe.


How does an entire nation delude itself into believing that it alone is, without question, outstanding and unique, “the biggest country in the world[4]”? A question you can’t even begin to answer. It’s too complex; there are far too many components in the equation, and the conclusion would inevitably be built on sand.

I believe I know why the wife of My Dear Jon comes to the same conclusion and I don’t mean to put forth a proposition that’s resistant to criticism or narrowly applicable to the Icelandic people; I want very simply to pose an idea, in the same way that a silhouette might play on the partition for a moment before disappearing, in all likelihood, forgotten. The answer is isolation. The wife of My Dear Jon lives in a secluded mountain valley, a heath, with her husband and the chickens and a few ewes and maybe a few buttercups, and whenever a fallacious idea sews its roots, nobody is nearby to cut them back. Perhaps, once upon a time, she received an award from the Farmers’ Association for outstanding husbandry–and the certificate is her pride and joy. She’s framed it and hung it on a wall in her provincial living room, but she looks at it every day and thinks to herself: “I am the best homesteader in the world,” and by then she’s halfway to heaven. But if there were another farm nearby, she’d quickly come to realize that there’s another model farm in the world, where there also perhaps hangs an award on the wall.

This isolation lays the groundwork for her self-image, and she comes very quickly and lightly to the conclusion that she is exceptional because she has no means for comparison.


But there is one thing I’ve overlooked up to this point: the wife of My Dear Jon goes up to heaven, she gets her husband into Paradise even though it’s impossible. At the exact moment that the man she loves is to be damned, she captures his soul in a sack and brings him to heaven and everlasting joy. And we love her for that.

The people in this country know how to take insurmountable tasks into their hands, crushed under the winter darkness, yet holding onto hope that someday spring will come. She knows how to scrape by, century after century, in this starvation-wage hell – eating the vellum of old manuscripts to eke out life just a few days longer, looking into the eyes of the mountains, only to find that there’s nothing there, aside from basaltic indifference to a nation that’s dying of hunger. We can simply look at the eighteenth century, when all the nations of Europe blossomed while the “Mist Hardships” (‘móðuharðindin’) shook Iceland and every fifth man died–when mass migration to Jutland became a real possibility because conditions on the island had become so dire. In other words: despair was Icelanders’ daily bread, and in those circumstances the wife of My Dear Jon is a saint. She was an Icelandic hero, likely the most Icelandic hero of all time. If we were to bump into her on the street, we would kneel down and thank her because she is, perhaps, the reason that it was possible to exist here these thousand and some years since the Norse travelers mistakenly landed on these shores.

The legacy of the wife of My Dear Jon continues to thrive even though Icelanders have long abandoned their turf houses, burgeoning into a society with one of the highest standards of living in the world. We are a small nation–barely there—but still, we went to the European Championships and won against England. We’re ready to win Eurovision every year. We’re the world champions in Cross Fit and won silver at the Olympic Games in 2008, and we lay claim to the strongest man in the world one year after another, and even a few Miss Universes and a Nobel laureate and world-class musicians and we have universal healthcare and seven universities and a symphony and who-knows-how-many banks and none of this is possible, but we still did it without even thinking about it, and maybe it all comes down to the wife of My Dear Jon – it’s all just as ridiculous as a farmer’s wife laying down the line for the Almighty.

The magic of the wife of My Dear Jon is in her absolute lack of self-doubt, which doesn’t falter for a moment. She simply decides to go to heaven, and hits the road. She makes her way to the gates of paradise and hurls insults at Saint Peter before it even occurs to her that it might be a bad idea, but by then she’s already abused the Virgin Mary and thrown her husband past Christ. She’s never critical of herself, and that disposition is what made/makes it possible for the Icelandic people to be a nation.

Mark Twain once said that in order to be successful in life, you need two things: ignorance (fáviska) and confidence (sjálfstraust). The wife of My Dear Jon is the distillation of ignorance and confidence into a single person – or, more correctly, into one nation.



Birkir Blær Ingólfsson is an Icelandic author and scriptwriter, who develops and writes scripts for Sagafilm’s various series, including The Minister, which is now in preproduction. He was born in 1989 and finished a law degree at the University of Iceland. He is a professional saxophone player and part-time journalist for the Icelandic national broadcasting service, RÚV. (Þjóðar)sálin hans Jóns míns is published by Partus Press as a part of a new sub-serie called Fræ that focuses on non-fiction material. Birkir has published one poetry collection, Vísur, through Partus Press in cooperation with the Icelandic news-website; and a short story called El Dorado, also published by Partus Press.

Meg Matich is a Reykjavik-based translator-poet. She’s received numerous awards for her work as a translator from organizations like the Icelandic Literature Centre, PEN America, and the Fulbright Commission, and has translated poetry for UNESCO. Cold Moons (2017 Phoneme Media) is her first full-length translation of Tími kaldra mána by Magnús Sigurðsson. The work (EN/IS) has been ‘translated’ into a choral symphony by composer David R. Scott. Her translations have appeared or are forthcoming in places like The Boston Review, Gulf Coast, Asymptote, and Words Without Borders. She is currently editing and translating an anthology of 32 Icelandic poets for The Café Review’s Summer 2018 issue.


[1] Author’s note: This is a pun connected to a very memorable quote by Þorgerður Katrín, who told foreign authorities to get a refresher course when they issued warnings concerning the Icelandic economy before the crisis.

[2] A neoliberal political commentator and politics professor at the University of Iceland

[3] A center-right, populist, agrarian political party in Iceland

[4] Author’s note: this is a direct quote by Dorrit Moussaieff, wife of the former President







Published on April 17, 2018.


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