The Ambassador

( 1 )


Sturla Jón Jónsson is invited to represent Iceland at a poetry festival in Lithuania, which is the beginning of his troubles. While at the conference, his overcoat is stolen, his article about how stupid literary festivals are causes a huge controversy, and he's accused of plagiarism. And that doesn't even include his encounters with the bizarre festival attendees.
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The Ambassador

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Sturla Jón Jónsson is invited to represent Iceland at a poetry festival in Lithuania, which is the beginning of his troubles. While at the conference, his overcoat is stolen, his article about how stupid literary festivals are causes a huge controversy, and he's accused of plagiarism. And that doesn't even include his encounters with the bizarre festival attendees.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Ólafsson’s dark, delightful tale of an alcoholic Icelandic poet representing his country at a poetry festival in Lithuania brims with mordant commentary and beguiling narrative cul-de-sacs. The book begins with one of many nods to Gogol as Sturla Jón Jónsson buys an expensive overcoat that he will promptly lose at the festival. Then the situation worsens: Sturla gets mixed up with a Salomé-inspired striptease gone wrong, is accused of plagiarizing in his latest book, gets harassed by a garlic-breath prostitute, and resorts, in a moment of desperation, to thievery. Ólafsson (The Pets) skillfully fills in Sturla’s dysfunctional family history while building up to the festival, then wastes no time in painting his protagonist into a corner once he gets there. The tension over how and whether Sturla will escape his comical problems is satisfying, as are Ólafsson’s sly observations about literary and Icelandic culture. If the eventual resolution feels too easy, there are enough discordant notes and painfully awkward situations to add depth and angst to this look into the messy calculus of life. (Oct.)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781934824139
  • Publisher: Open Letter
  • Publication date: 10/28/2010
  • Pages: 298
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.40 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

Bragi Ólafsson is most well known for playing in The Sugarcubes. He is the author of several books of poetry, a number of plays, and five novels. His works have been finalists for the Icelandic Literature Prize and Nordic Literature Prize, and he has received the Icelandic Bookseller's Award.

Lytton Smith is a poet and translator, and a founding member of Blind Tiger Poetry. His book, The All-Purpose Magical Tent was published by Nightboat. His poems and reviews have appeared in such publications as The Atlantic, The Believer, and Boston Review.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 5
( 1 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Posted October 12, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    Complex yet comedic

    Translated from the Icelandic by Lytton Smith

    It's tough being a poet. First, there's the whole stereotype of the cerebral, tortured artist who offers the world little but obscure verses. Then your Dad starts doing the passive-aggressive thing and slights your work whenever he can. Your son calls your career a 'hobbyhorse'. You get no respect.

    This is the world for Sturla Jon, a sucessful poet from Iceland. He's tough, sarcastic, and is finding it hard to even respect himself anymore. He still writes poetry, but since he's hit fifty, he wants to do something more. Novels, maybe. He's dissatisfied with most of his life, and it's starting to show:

    "In Sturla's opinion, there is an irony to this that results from a deception the poet himself perpetrates: when it comes down to it, his value is only ever evident from the price tag on the book."

    And to make one big step away from the starving artist that he imagines typical poets to be, he goes out and buys a top-notch overcoat, high style and big money. He's old-fashioned, and decides the cell phone pocket will be perfect for his cigarettes. That one detail shows a great deal about him: he isn't fitting in with the times.

    "One moment Sturla feels there is depth and purpose to his writing but the next.he, the poet, starts to think that he can't see anything in the production of poetry but emptiness and the surface emotion that still lifes offer: more or less beautiful textures, at best, things better suited to being the subject of a watercolor on the wall of a room."

    So with this new overcoat, and an invitation to a poetry festival in Lithuania, he makes a new plan. He's going to move towards an experimental form of literature, and 'review' the events of the festival before it even happens. His cynical and disparaging review reflects all the clichés of poetry, and poetry festivals in general. Bad food, terrible lodging, and worse, pretentious poets who take themselves far too seriously than he thinks they deserve. His caustic review makes him feel fresh and innovative, and he leaves for Lithuania with low expectations.

    However, despite the fact he condemns the poet's lifestyle as often as possible, it's revealing that he still wants to go. Why not just skip it? This is one of the complicating facets to Sturla: he's not really sure what he wants to be, and at his age, it's hard to change. His life is full of contradictions: he wins money (that he doesn't need) at a slot machine when he's just killing time, and his aging father gets more attention from the ladies than he does. While he works part-time as a building superintendent (possibly the diametric opposite of a poet), he likes to hint to people that he's a published poet. Who is the real Sturla?

    Only in Lithuania does Sturla even begin to understand just how he fits in, and his exploits there are terrifying, frantic, and sometimes slapstick. He realizes that his "predicted" review is not only wrong, but almost criminally so.

    Lest this sound too serious, keep in mind that Sturla is possibly one of the funniest characters I've run across. He's snarky and witty, and throughout the narrative there is a remarkable amount of humor as he pokes fun at himself, his family, and most of all, the literary world. The author, Bragi Olafsson, writes Sturla as the least expected poetic figure: needy yet badass, sensitive but acerbic, and always unpredictable.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted April 2, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

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