Synopses & Reviews
A young woman obsessed with uncovering a family secret is drawn into the strange and magical history, language and landscape of Iceland.
Freya Morris grows up in a typical American suburb but every summer, she enters another realm entirely when she visits her relatives in Gimli, a tiny village in Canada settled by Icelandic immigrants. Here she falls under the spell of her troubled but charming aunt Birdie, who thrills her with stories of exotic Norse goddesses, moody Viking bards, and the life of her late grandfather, the most famous poet of "New Iceland." But when Birdie tricks Freya into a terrifying scandal, Freya turns her back on everything Icelandic and anything that reminds her of the past. She is living an anonymous, bleak existence in Manhattan when she finally returns to Gimli for the first time in two decades and stumbles upon a long concealed family secret.
As Freya becomes increasingly obsessed with unraveling her family's tangled story, she finds herself delving into the very memories she has worked so hard to forget. When the clues dry up in Gimli, Freya journeys to Iceland itself. On this rugged island of vast lava fields and immense glaciers, Freya's quest comes to its unsettling conclusion.
A beautifully-written debut novel that deftly weaves together Iceland's distinctive history, ancient mythology, reverence for language, and passion for genealogy, The Tricking of Freya is a powerful exploration of kinship, loss and redemption.
"An instant classic....[A]Â luminous first novel....The story sparkles with the author's love of language and of her own Icelandic culture. The book's masterfully told final mysteries reveal themselves as magically as darkroom images appearing under the light." Jane Ciabattari, president of the National Book Critics Circle, for More Magazine
"Sunley's astonishingly accomplished debut is a bewitching tale of volcanic emotions, cultural inheritance, family sorrows, mental illness, and life-altering discoveries." Booklist
"Sunley's first novel moves among the United States, Canada, and Iceland as it recounts the tale of a fascinating family. Readers learn about a little-known culture as they follow the twists and turns of Freya and Birdie through the past into the present day." Library Journal
A simmering family secret draws a woman into the strange and magical history, language, and landscape of Iceland.
In this moving novel, a family secret leads a disenchanted young woman back into her familys immigrant past—in Canada and Iceland—to recall her own childhood and discover the truth about her origins.
A young woman obsessed with uncovering a family secret is drawn into the strange and magical landscape, language, and history of Iceland. Freya Morris is living in New York, far removed from her family and her past, when she is summoned back to the formative place of her youth, a remote Canadian village called Gimli, where her Icelandic ancestors settled long ago. Her ancient grandmother, a woman who knows all the family stories, now clings to life. In Gimli, Freya picks up the thread of a secret--one that leads her through her history and ultimately back to Iceland. Along the way, we learn the story of her early visits to Gimli, the truth about her exuberant, mercurial aunt, and the full scope of a tragedy that shattered her childhood in an instant. A vivid, moving story of an immigrant family and the culture of a little-known nation, The Tricking of Freya is "astonishingly accomplished . . . a bewitching tale of volcanic emotions, cultural inheritance, family sorrows, mental illness, and life-altering discoveries" (Donna Seaman, Booklist).
About the Author
CHRISTINA SUNLEY grew up hearing stories about her Icelandic grandparents and the massive emigration that followed a 19th century volcanic eruption. She has visited Iceland for extended stays to research and write this novel. Her short fiction has appeared in literary journals, and she has taught memoir writing and fiction at universities. She now lives in the San Francisco Bay area.
Reading Group Guide
1. This is in many ways a story about an immigrant community and the experience of living far from ones homeland. How do the Icelandic immigrants at Gimli remain connected to their Icelandic heritage? How do Freyas ideas about her ancestry evolve throughout the story?
2. Do you think Freya is more like her mother or Birdie? What aspects of each does she inherit?
3. Do you think Anna is right to keep Freya at a distance from Gimli as a girl, and from her Icelandic heritage in general? Do you think shes better off for having been raised by Anna?
4. What role do myths play for the characters in this story? Why do you think they are so important to the Icelanders and the Icelandic emigrants?
5. Do you think Birdie has Freyas best interests at heart during the time they spend together? Is she able to love Freya? Do you see any ways in which shes a good influence?
6. What are the differences between Icelandic and Canadian (or American) culture in the novel? In what ways is Freya American? In what ways is she Icelandic?
7. Consider the passage about adulthood on page 197 that begins, “Before my mother died…” What does adulthood mean to the different characters in the story, to Freya, Birdie, Anna? How does Freyas definition of it shift during the story?
8. What is the significance of the story of the tricking of Gylfi (pp 203-206)? Why do you think the author based the storys title on it? What are some of the secrets and tricks that change the course of Freyas life?
9. Why is Freya reluctant to return to Gimli for Siggas 100th birthday?
10. Late in the story its revealed that Freya has cyclothymia, a mild form of bipolar disorder. Was there evidence of the illness in her behavior throughout the story? Have you had any contact with bipolar disorder in your own life? Did you find the portraits of Birdie and Freya convincing?
11. How does it affect the reading experience to have the narrator addressing her imagined cousin? Why do you think the author chose this method for this story?
12. In the end, how do you think Freya feels about Birdie? Does Birdie deserve to be forgiven? Do you have more sympathy for her, or for Anna?