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Absolution: A Novel


In his spellbinding first novel, acclaimed Icelandic author Olaf Olafsson takes us inside the mind of a man haunted by the crime he willed half a century earlier.

Expatriate businessman Peter Peterson left behind the trappings of a seemingly charmed life: a vast fortune, two children, and a stately Park Avenue address. But he also left behind another legacy: a secret from long ago that shadowed his accomplishments and estranged him from his loved ones—a crime of passion, ...

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In his spellbinding first novel, acclaimed Icelandic author Olaf Olafsson takes us inside the mind of a man haunted by the crime he willed half a century earlier.

Expatriate businessman Peter Peterson left behind the trappings of a seemingly charmed life: a vast fortune, two children, and a stately Park Avenue address. But he also left behind another legacy: a secret from long ago that shadowed his accomplishments and estranged him from his loved ones—a crime of passion, committed in the throes of unrequited love, that became a lifetime’s burden. Yet when Peter is forced to confront the consequences of his actions, an unexpected turn of events shakes the very foundation of his past. Spanning a boyhood in Iceland to the Nazi occupation of Denmark to modern-day Manhattan, Absolution calls up Dostoevsky and Ibsen as it masterfully plumbs the darkest corners of a sinister mind and a wounded heart.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“Brilliant . . . a tour de force.” –The New York Times Book Review

“Powerfully accomplished. . . . Absolution sets long reverberations tolling in the reader’s mind.” –The New York Review of Books

“A clever, unexpectedly enjoyable novel of crime and punishment.” –The New York Times

“A fascinating, wintry tale of a frozen heart.” –The Wall Street Journal

“A literary triumph. . . . The book works extremely well both as a psychological thriller and as a character study.” –The European

“A solemn, intellectually challenging work.” –Chicago Tribune

“The first book in English by this top-notch Nordic novelist, who may become that true rarity, an Icelandic Nobel Prize winner.” –Forbes Magazine

“Surprisingly effective. . . . This story of crime and punishment is an impressive novel. . . . A modest, but not unworthy, offspring of Dostoevsky’s towering predecessor.” – The Economist

“Compulsive reading, and the spare, dry language concentrates the suspense. . . . As cold and lucid as a quartz crystal.” –Independent on Sunday

“Spellbinding. . . . Formidably written.” –Entertainment Weekly

“The novel whose aftertaste has lingered longest this year is Absolution. . . . Its deep humanity and elegiac tone made it oddly exhilarating. . . . A superlative example of the genre, which reverberates in the reader’s mind because of the craftsmanship and integrity which Olafsson has brought to the story.” –Sunday Telegraph

“[A] sophisticated novel . . . written in clear, sparse prose.” –The Times (London)

“Olafsson’s debut as a writer in English has more than curiosity value: this is a fine novel.” –Time Out

“Icelander Olafsson’s style has the linear austerity and emotionally supercharged restraint that seems a Nordic hallmark. . . . The honesty of this first-person account of a traumatised conscience holds the attention. The slow-burning fuse of the narrator’s guilt . . . smoulders through skilled writing and narrative integrity.” –The Observer

“Funny, sad and utterly enjoyable.” –The Spectator

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
A popular writer in Iceland, Olafsson makes his English language debut in this sensitive, resonant, if imperfect, study of guilt, jealousy and betrayal. Peter Peterson, an Icelandic emigre and wealthy retired New York businessman, obsesses over a crime of passion he committed half a century before in Nazi-occupied Denmark. Spurned by a young Icelandic woman, he falsely accused her boyfriend of betraying the resistance movement to the Nazis. Now the aged Peterson is a cynical, fulminating recluse, his only companion a refugee Cambodian housemaid whom he clumsily attempts to seduce. Through flashbacks and reminiscences, we learn of his two failed marriages, his refusal to visit his ex-wife on her deathbed, his obsession with money and cruel contempt for his devoted son Helgi. Originally published in Iceland in 1991, this novel suffers from a protagonist who is so dislikable that one tends to lose interest in his melancholy, evasive monologue. Olafsson, president of Sony Electronic Publishing in New York, lamely frames the main narrative with commentary by a compatriot who is asked to translate the manuscript on Peterson's death and ends up identifying with him. A surprise ending puts Peterson's guilty self-recrimination in an ironic light. (Mar.)
In a manuscript discovered after his death, an old man remembers a time in his youth when he committed a crime against another man who he felt stole his girlfriend and made him look like a fool. The manuscript was written in Icelandic and the translator becomes obsessed with finding out what happened during the last few months of the old man's life. He discovers the shocking truth about the crime that haunted the old man throughout his life. The story captures the pre-WW II setting of Iceland and occupied Denmark and dramatically portrays the soul of a young man whose lack of self-confidence turns into a bitterness that prevents him from ever finding happiness. The author draws a chilling picture of a man whose emotional life never warms to normal human temperature and whose feelings remain frozen in the past. KLIATT Codes: SA-Recommended for senior high school students, advanced students, and adults. 1994, Random House, Anchor, 259p., Ages 15 to adult.
— Nola Theiss
Library Journal
From Iceland comes a contemporary novel presented as the memoirs of an expatriate living in New York. Though wine connossieur Peter Peterson has achieved financial success, he looks back on his selfish, egotistical, and manipulative life with a combination of vanity, defensiveness, paranoia, and self-deception. As a student in Denmark, he responds brutally to the pangs of unrequited love; for the rest of his life, he is haunted by his crime of passion, despite a new life in the New World. Though Peterson claims he does not seek forgiveness, the revelations in this first-person narrative are those of a guilt-ridden man yearning for understanding and vindication. A best-selling author in Iceland, Olafsson deserves wide attention in this country as well. Recommended.-- Ann Irvine, Montgomery Cty. P.L., Ct .
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781400030682
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 10/14/2003
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 272
  • Sales rank: 732,495
  • Product dimensions: 5.20 (w) x 7.99 (h) x 0.60 (d)

Meet the Author

Olaf Olafsson
Olaf Olafsson was born in Reykjavik, Iceland, in 1962 and studied physics as a Wien Scholar at Brandeis University. He is the author of two other novels, The Journey Home and Walking Into the Night. His work has been translated into fourteen languages. Olafsson lives in New York with his wife and two sons.
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