10 Best Icelandic Authors | All About Iceland (2024)

10 Best Icelandic Authors | All About Iceland (1)


|October 30, 2017

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Iceland has been an inspiration to artist, poets, and novelists for ages and there is no end in sight. Here is a list of the top 10 Icelandic authors and novelists you should check out. Some of the books have even been made into films for those who need a quick fix and it's all listed here!

Whether it is crime, romance, poetry or anything in between, literature is a major part of the Icelandic culture – so, no surprise they have the highest rate of authors per capita in the world. Here is a list of 10 well known Icelandic authors you shoulddefinitely check out.

1. Arnaldur Indriðason

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Photo by ActuaLitté

Born on January 28th, 1961 in Reykjavík, he is a crime fiction author and probably the most famous of them all. His most popular protagonist is the detective, Erlendur. Arnaldur wrote several novels about his hero’s journey conflicted within his own troubles while solving crimes in the rugged environment of Iceland.

Mýrin” or ‘Jar City’ was written in 2000 and translated in 2004. This was the first of his novels to be translated. Arnaldur won a Glass Key Award for Scandinavian crime fiction in 2002 for Mýrin and it was later made into a film by the Icelandic director Baltasar Kormakur, starring in of Iceland’s most known actors Ingvar E. Sigurdsson.

Grafarþögn” or ‘Silence of the Grave’ (2001) was the follow up to Jar City and in it, the journey of detective Erlendur continues. The novel was translated in 2005 and won another Glass Key Award in 2003 and a CWA International Dagger in 2005.

Another one of his thrilling novels in this series is “Vetrarborgin” or ‘Arctic Chill’ from 2005. One more time is the protagonist caught between his personal drama and a murder surrounding racism and school bullying.

Here is a total list of the books Arnaldur has written about Erlendur:

Synir duftsins (Sons of Dust), 1997

Dauðarósir (Roses of Death), 1998

Mýrin (Jar City), 2000. Trans. 2005.

Grafarþögn (Silence of the Grave), 2001. Trans. 2006.

Röddin (Voices), 2003. Trans. 2007.

Kleifarvatn (The Draining Lake), 2004[4]. Trans. 2008.

Vetrarborgin (Arctic Chill), 2005[5]. Trans. 2009.

Harðskafi (Hypothermia), 2007. Trans. 2010.

Myrká (Outrage), 2008. Trans. 2012.

Svörtuloft (Black Skies), 2009. Trans. 2013.

Furðustrandir (Strange Shores), 2010. Trans. 2014.

Young Erlendur

Einvígið (The Duel), 2011.

Reykjavíkurnætur (Reykjavik Nights), 2012. Trans. 2015.

Kamp Knox (Oblivion), 2014. Published in the U.S. as Into Oblivion, 2016.

2. Yrsa Sigurðardóttir

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Photo by Ave Maria Mõistlik

This crime novelist and children’s fiction author is a Reykjavík native and a number 1 best-selling Icelandic crime fiction author. Yrsa Sigurðardóttir debuted the Þóra Gudmundsdóttir series with the novel “Last Rituals” in 2005. It was translated into over 30 languages.

The popular series surrounding protagonist Þóra Gudmundsdóttir began with “Þriðjatáknið” (‘Last Rituals’) but so far the series has 6 titles to its name all worth a read. Most successful on the international market next to the first novel was “Auðnin” ‘The Day is Dark’ (2008) and “Brakið” ‘The Silence of the Sea’ in 2011.

DNA” or ‘The Legacy’, 2014, was the beginning of another award-winning series about child psychologist Freyja and police detective Huldar. Followed by two more books called “Sogið” (‘The Reckoning’) in 2015 and “Aflausn” (‘The Absolution’) in 2016.

Yrsa is known for causing quite the chills and being unafraid to touch on sensitive topics. One that really captures you is “Ég man þig” orI Remember Youwhich in 2017 was made into a movie.

3. Halldór Laxness

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Halldór Laxness wrote everything from poetry to newspaper articles, plays, travelogues, short stories, and novels. During his life, he lived in several European countries and was heavily influenced by modern currents in Germany and France. He is the only Icelandic author, so far, to win a Nobel prize.

He wrote several books about his spiritual experience converting to Catholicism called“Undir Helgahnúk” or in English ‘Under the Holy Mountain’. Undir Helgahnúk was the first book he wrote under the name Halldór Kiljan Laxnes but the one beforeBörn Náttúrunnar” e. ‘Children of nature’he has written using the name Halldór frá Laxnesi.

The play ‘Under the Glacier’(1989) was also made into a movie by director Guðný Halldórsdóttir.

In 1927 he published his first well-known novel “Vefarinnmiklifrá Kasmír” (‘The Great Weaver from Kashmir’).

He furthermore published three novel cycles dealing with the people of Iceland. Interestingly enough he moved to the Soviet Union to write in their favor but after military incidents in Hungary, he changed to writing articles against the Soviet Union. Therefore he was taken off the American blacklist and toured the US.

Today you can visit the Laxness Museum when driving along the popular Golden Circle Route in Iceland. It is managed by the Icelandic government and set in his former home.

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Halldór was known for being an unusual character and he loved playing around with ways to write words. This did not always make him the most popular with Icelandic scholars but his flare was a fresh breeze into the Icelandic art scene and is still today very alive. His books are taught in Icelandic secondary schools and it’s hard to find an Icelander that hasn’t read at least one of his books.

4. Auður Ava Ólafsdóttir

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Photo from Iceland Writers Retreat

The second woman on this list is Auður Ava Ólafsdóttir. She is an Icelandic professor of art history, novelist, playwright and poet. So far she published 5 novels, a collection of poetry and 4 plays performed at the National Theatre in Iceland and the Reykjavík City Theatre. She also writes lyrics for the Icelandic pop band Milkywhale. Her novels have been translated into over 20 languages.

The Greenhouse’ is a fiction novel published in 2007 and globally her most well-known work. Auður won the Icelandic DV Culture Award for literature and was nominated for a Council Literature Award for this novel.

Another novel definitely worth reading is her ‘Butterflies in November’ from 2004. A story about a hilarious road trip around Iceland in an old car, told by a recently divorced woman with a five-year-old boy ‘on loan’. A playful and self-conscious novel raising questions about life, loss, and love, subtle but very present.

5. Snorri Sturluson

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No list of Icelandic authors is complete without Snorri Sturluson.
Born ca. 1179 in Dalasýla he was a lot more than just an author, he was a famous Icelandic historian, poet, politician and elected twice as lawspeaker at the Icelandic parliament, Alþingi.

He was the first Icelandic author identified by name and his publications deeply influenced Nordic identity and preserved evidence of ancient Germanic cultural heritage.

His best-known work is ‘Edda’ which contains legends and lore of Norse mythology and functions as the principal source for the nature of the pagan medieval world-view.

Another work I should mention is ‘Heimskringla’ written ca. 1230. It is the best known of the Old Norse Kings’ sagas and written in old Norse. Because the Icelandic language hasn’t changed a lot over the centuries most Icelandic people are still able to read it in its original form.

6. Sjón

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Photo by Magnus Fröder/norden.org

Sigurjón Birgir Siguðsson or Sjón is an Icelandic poet, novelist, and lyricist. He often collaborates with Icelandic singer Björk and performed with The Sugarcubes as Johnny Triumph. He is the president of the Icelandic PEN Centre and a former chairman of the Board of Reykjavík, UNESCO city of literature. His work has been translated into 29 languages so far.

His novel‘The Blue Fox’ published in 2003 is a cross of a fairytale, fiction, and mystery and has won the Nordic Council’s Literature Prize. It was translated and published in the United States in 2013.

Already celebrated far beyond his native Iceland, his novels receive waves of praises from writers, critics and readers worldwide, no wonder ‘The Whispering Muse’ won Best Icelandic Novel in 2005.

Sjóns historic fiction novel ‘From the Mouth of the Whale’ (2008) was shortlisted for the 2012 Independent Foreign Fiction Prize and the 2013 International IMPAC Dublin Literary Prize.

He was also a scriptwriter for three movies: ‘Reykjavik Whale Watching Massacre’ (2009), ‘Anna and the Moods’ (2006) and ‘Regína’ (2001).

Furthermore, he published an album called ‘Suffer’ in 2015. His music is an alternative/indie crossover.

7. Einar Már Guðmundsson

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Photo by Johannes Jansson/norden.org

Einar is known for his novels, short stories, and poetry. His work has been translated into multiple languages. He has a Bachelor degree in comparative literature and history from the University of Iceland. Alongside his writing, he has also published several essays as audio books.

His most known publication is “Englar alheimsins” or ‘Angels of the Universe’ from 1995. He won the Nordic Council’s Literary Award for it. In 2000 ‘Angels of the Universe’ was made into a movie by director Friðrik Þór Friðriksson

Bankastræti núll’ (2011) is a collection of 25 essays about the 2008-11 Icelandic financial crisis. Even though it is playfully written it remains an earnest effort to retrieve the lost connections between past and present.

His 2012 novel ‘Íslenskir kóngar’ is a satire of the ups and downs of the petty aristocrats of rural twentieth-century Iceland, depicting the fortunes of the imaginary Knudsen dynasty in a fictitious fishing town of Tangavík.

8. Árni Þórarinsson

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Photo from Forlagið

He studied comparative literature at the University of East Anglia in England and works as a journalist since 1971. He sat at several panels at international film festivals and is one of the authors of ‘Leyndardómar Reykjavíkur 2000’ (The Reykjavík 2000 Mystery), along with other members of “Hið íslenska glæpafélag” (The Society of Icelandic Crime Writers).

His first novel, ‘Nóttin hefur þúsund augu’ (The Night Has a Thousand Eyes) was published in 1989 and the beginning of a series about the investigative journalist Einar

Another popular book in the series about Einar is the mystery novel ‘Season of the Witch’ from 2012. A thrilling story about the modern crisis suffering city of Reykjavík and the sleepy, traditional town of Akureyri.

Árni has also published an interview book with filmmaker Hrafn Gunnlaugsson, and his translation of ‘A Book for Teenagers’ by the Dutch writer Evert Hartman received the Reykjavík Scholastic Prize in 1984.

9. Jón Kalman

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Jón Kalman is a Nordic Council’s Literature Prize and Prix Médicis étranger winner, Reykjavík native and shortlisted for a Nobel Prize in literature. He studied literature at the University of Iceland and wrote for the Morgunblaðið newspaper. So far three of his books have been nominated for the Nordic Council’s Literature Prize.

Critics claim that his fiction novel ‘The Sorrow of Angels’ (2012) is a “timeless literary masterpiece; in extraordinarily powerful language, it brings the struggle between man and nature tangibly to life.”

Fish Have no Feet’ (2013) is a romance and fiction novel shortlisted for the Man Booker International Prize 2017. Set in Keflavík in Iceland’s southwest it is a novel dealing with loss, nostalgia and the will to keep on going.

Sumarljós,og svo kemurnóttin’ (Summer Light, and Then Comes the Night) won the Icelandic Literature Prize in 2005. It is very much beloved by critics and readers alike. Sometimes simplicity is key!

10. Guðrún Eva Mínervudóttir

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Photo by Elena Torre

Another great female Icelandic author is Guðrún Eva Mínerudóttir. With a philosophy degree from the University of Iceland and a first novel collection published in 1998 she is an accomplished author. Since then she has published 5 more novels, a collection of philosophical stories for children, a book of poetry and translated several novels by foreign authors.

In 1998 she published her short story collection named ‘Á meðan hann horfir á þig ertu María mey’or “While He Watches You, You are the Virgin Mary”.

Her most well-known novel so far is ‘Skaparinn’ (2008) (translated as The Creator, 2012). A love letter to quirky Scandinavian culture, where nothing bad ever happens and there are no big revelations but it is just perfect as it is and in itself.
Curious? There is a lot more to explore than those 10 authors and the dark winter months are the perfect time to start your Icelandic literature journey with some of Iceland’s most iconic authors and novels.

Ever read anything by these authors?

10 Best Icelandic Authors | All About Iceland (2024)


Who is Iceland's most famous writer? ›

1. Arnaldur Indriðason. Born on January 28th, 1961 in Reykjavík, he is a crime fiction author and probably the most famous of them all.

What should I read before going to Iceland? ›

10 Books to Read Before Visiting Iceland
  • The History of Iceland by Gunnar Karisson. ...
  • Names for the Sea: Strangers in Iceland by Sarah Moss. ...
  • The Promise of Iceland by Kari Gislason. ...
  • Iceland 101 by Rúnar Þór Sigurbjörnsson. ...
  • The Little Book of Tourists in Iceland by Alda Sigmundsdottir. ...
  • Burial Rites by Hannah Kent.

How many Icelanders publish books? ›

What is more, according to BBC Magazine, one in ten Icelanders will publish a book in their life! Despite its small size, Iceland can pride itself of a long-standing literary tradition, dating back to the 13th-century sagas, which represent a stronghold of Icelandic national identity.

How do I learn Icelandic books? ›

Books and Textbooks to Learn Icelandic
  1. Complete Icelandic. This book by Hildur Jónsdóttir is highly acclaimed. ...
  2. Colloquial Icelandic. Another great book for someone looking to learn Icelandic is Colloquial Icelandic. ...
  3. Íslenska Fyrir Alla. ...
  4. Sagnasyrpa. ...
  5. Icelandic: Grammar Texts Glossary.

What is an Icelandic literary work? ›

Icelandic literature refers to literature written in Iceland or by Icelandic people. It is best known for the sagas written in medieval times, starting in the 13th century.

What is Iceland history? ›

Iceland was founded more than 1,000 years ago during the Viking age of exploration and settled by a mixed Norse and Celtic population. The early settlement, made up primarily of Norwegian seafarers and adventurers, fostered further excursions to Greenland and the coast of North America (which the Norse called Vinland).

Which country gives books on Christmas Eve? ›

Ever since 1944, the Icelandic book trade has sent out a book bulletin to each household in the middle of November when the Reykjavik Book Fair happens. People use this catalogue to order books to give to their friends and family on Christmas Eve, the main gift-giving day in Iceland.

What genre is burial rites? ›

Burial Rites

Which country has best writers? ›

France is the country with the most Nobel Prize for Literature winners and its capital has been home to some of the world's greatest writers.

Which country has most writers? ›

Per capita, Iceland has the highest number of writers in the world. One in ten people in Iceland have published a book, and one in four people work in a creative field.

What is the religion of Iceland? ›

Religion: Most Icelanders (80%) are members of the Lutheran State Church. Another 5% are registered in other Christian denominations, including the Free Church of Iceland and the Roman Catholic Church. Almost 5% of people practice ásatrú, the traditional Norse religion.

Will Duolingo get Icelandic? ›

However, if your first move is to install Duolingo, then I've got bad news for you: There is no Icelandic course on the app, nor are there any plans of making one at this time.

What app teaches Icelandic? ›

Memrise and Drops are a multi-language apps that support Icelandic. Íslenska (available on iOS) helps practice tricky Icelandic declensions.

Where can I learn Iceland for free? ›

The University of Iceland offers six online Icelandic courses on Icelandic Online allowing anyone with Internet access the possibility of participating for free in a global community of learners of Icelandic. The program offers a course in survival Icelandic along with five courses for university students.

What are Icelandic poems called? ›

Old Norse poetry is conventionally, and somewhat arbitrarily, split into two types—Eddaic poetry (also sometimes known as Eddic poetry) and skaldic poetry. Eddaic poetry includes the poems of the Codex Regius and a few other similar ones.

What is Icelandic poetry called? ›

1270), commonly designated by scholars as the Poetic Edda, or Elder Edda (see Edda). The poetry is sometimes called Eddaic and falls into two sections: heroic lays, which, broadly speaking, deal with the world of mortals; and mythological lays, which deal with the world of the gods.

What is an Icelandic epic called? ›

Icelanders' sagas, also called family sagas, the class of heroic prose narratives written during 1200–20 about the great families who lived in Iceland from 930 to 1030. Among the most important such works are the Njáls saga and the Gísla saga.

Who named Iceland? ›

The short version is that one day in the 9th century, a Norseman named Hrafna-Flóki hiked up a mountain in the Westfjords, saw a fjord full of ice and icebergs, and named the island “Iceland.” He wasn't the most creative fellow….

What's Iceland famous for? ›

Iceland is famous for a lot of natural wonders like glaciers, active volcanoes, and geysers. However, it is also known for the Northern Lights, whale watching, jailed bankers after the financial crisis and some very strange delicacies.

Who founded Iceland? ›

Settlement (874–930)

The first permanent settler in Iceland is usually considered to have been a Norwegian chieftain named Ingólfr Arnarson and his wife, Hallveig Fróðadóttir. According to the Landnámabók, he threw two carved pillars (Öndvegissúlur) overboard as he neared land, vowing to settle wherever they landed.

What kind of language is Icelandic? ›

Icelandic is the official language of Iceland. It is an Indo-European language, belonging to the sub-group of North Germanic languages. It is closely related to Norwegian and Faroese, although there are slight traces of Celtic influence in ancient Icelandic literature.

What does Iceland eat for Christmas? ›

Ham, smoked lamb and ptarmigan – these 3 main meat dishes are by far the most common and popular Christmas cuisines that every Icelander will eat on Christmas Eve. The meat dishes are typically served with side dishes such as peas, corn, cabbage, beans, gravy, jam, etc.

Is it true that in Iceland people exchange books on Christmas Eve? ›

Jolabokaflod is one of the most unique and charming Iceland Christmas traditions. The people of Iceland celebrate it on Christmas Eve. Jolabokaflod translates into "Christmas Book Flood." The tradition is to give or receive new books on Christmas Eve. It's not just about the giving though—it's also about the reading!

What is a Badstofa in Iceland? ›

A baðstofa is a living room in its most literal sense. When the Vikings first arrived, they built heated sauna rooms for bathing, but as the decades passed, more and more living was done in there until the stofa became a baðstofa, a collective living room and bedroom.

Is there a Burial Rites movie? ›

The Oscar-winning actor Jennifer Lawrence will reportedly star in and produce the upcoming film adaptation of the Australian author Hannah Kent's award-winning 2013 novel, Burial Rites. Kent's novel is based on the story of Agnes Magnúsdóttir, the last woman to be executed in Iceland in 1830.

Is Burial Rites a true story? ›

Burial Rites is based on the true story of a woman, Agnes Magnúsdóttir, who is charged with the brutal murder of her former master in 1829. This is a photograph of the original letter from Pétur Bjarnason, Reverend of Undirfell, to Björn Blöndal.

Who is the best writer ever? ›

Top 10 Authors by Points Earned
  • Leo Tolstoy – 327.
  • William Shakespeare – 293.
  • James Joyce – 194.
  • Vladimir Nabokov – 190.
  • Fyodor Dostoevsky – 177.
  • William Faulkner – 173.
  • Charles Dickens – 168.
  • Anton Chekhov – 165.
Jan 30, 2012

What is the most read book ever? ›

The most read book in the world is the Bible. Writer James Chapman created a list of the most read books in the world based on the number of copies each book sold over the last 50 years. He found that the Bible far outsold any other book, with a whopping 3.9 billion copies sold over the last 50 years.

What is the longest book in the world? ›

The Guinness Book of World Records gives the honor to Marcel Proust's elephantine Remembrance of Things Past, weighing in at 9,609,000 characters (including spaces).

What sport is Iceland famous for? ›

There are three sports in Iceland that are by far the most popular. There is football, handball and golf. The most popular of those is football. Icelandic football is on a high note this year.

Does Iceland have good education? ›

Education in Iceland is incredibly important. In a 2016 study, Iceland was ranked the third most literate nation in the world, trailing behind Finland and Norway. The small island country is home to a population of around 332,000 people. Iceland is well known for being progressive.

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