The Atom Station
|Set in||Reykjavík, c. 1946/47|
|21 March 1948|
Published in English
|Media type||Print (Paperback)|
|Pages||276 (1948 first edition)|
|LC Class||PT7511 .L3|
The Atom Station (Icelandic: Atómstöðin) is a novel by Icelandic author Halldór Laxness, who was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1955. The initial print run sold out on the day it was published, for the first time in Icelandic history.
Ugla, an unrefined girl from the countryside, moves from an outlying area of Northern Iceland to the capital city of Reykjavík in order to work for Búi Árland, a member of parliament, and to learn how to play the organ. She’s met with a world that’s completely foreign to her: politicians and the military move freely about the city, and she views city residents as spoiled, snobbish and arrogant. In contrast, she comes from a rural area where the Icelandic Sagas of the Middle Ages constitute the majority of what people discuss and ponder and are viewed as more important than reality. These historical backgrounds are certainly important and provide crucial patterns. The prime minister subsequently carries out secret dealings with the Americans and “sells” the country. Ugla, however, also confronts other current issues, above all in the organ player’s house. There, she comes in contact with communist and anarchist mindsets and likewise protests the construction of an atom station in Iceland. After a short relationship with Búi Árland, Ugla decides to return to the “selfconscious policeman”, who is the father of her recently born child.
- Ugla Falsdóttir, her mother and father
- The priest
At the home of Búi Árland
- Búi Árland
- Búi's wife
- Búi's cook and her daughter
- Their children: Arngrímur (Landaljómi), Guðný (Aldinblóð, 'Fruit-Blood'), Þórður (Gullhrútur, 'gold ram'), Þórgunnur (Daggeisli)
- Visiting politicians: the Prime Minister, Óli fígúra, other politicians, and Americans
At the Organist's house
- Organistinn (The Organist)
- The Organist's mother
- benjamín the atom-poet (a god) (mafía F.F.F.)
- briljantín the atom-poet (a god) (mafía F.F.F.)
- Tvö hundruð þúsund naglbítar ('Two hundred thousand pliers') (mafía F.F.F.)
- Lögreglumaður feiminn ('The Selfconscious Policeman')
- Lögreglumaður ófeiminn ('The Unselfconscious Policeman')
The Atom Station, written in 1946 and 1947, was published in 1948. The historical background of the novel is the British and later American occupation of Iceland during World War II, including the urbanisation and monetization of the Icelandic economy it stimulated. Many viewed Iceland’s independence as threatened due to the United States’ request in 1946 to establish a military base in Keflavík for 99 years, and pressure on Iceland to join NATO. Laxness was critical of the fact that Icelandic jurisdiction was not applicable to the area within the military base. But above all, he saw a threat to Icelandic life, because, in the event of an atomic war, Iceland would become a potential target due to the military base. These fears are based on the impression left by the two atomic bombs which had been recently dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Laxness began writing the novel shortly after these events; however, the Icelandic Parliament (the Althing) eventually agreed to the request and concluded the Keflavík Contract, provoking the 1949 anti-NATO riot in Iceland.
Many of the characters in the novel can be understood as satires of real figures in Icelandic business and politics at the time, or otherwise modelled on Laxness's friends and acquaintances, though the work is too sophisticated simply to be read as a roman à clef. According to Laxness's biographer Hannes Hólmsteinn Gissurarson,
- One model for the main character, Ugla, was Arnheiður Sigurðardóttir.
- The Organist was inspired primarily by Laxness's friends Erlendur Guðmundsson í Unuhúsi (to whom the book is dedicated) and Þórður Sigtryggsson.
- The main models for Búi Árland would mainly be Guðmundur Vilhjálmsson, the chairman of Eimskip, and Pálmi Hannesson, rector of Menntaskólinn í Reykjavík.
- The Prime Minister is based on Ólafur Thors (and the novel, amongst other things, a transparent attack on Ólafur).
- Landaljómi is based on Thor Vilhjálmsson.
- The god Briljantín is based on Ragnar Frímann Kristjánsson
- Kleópatra's model is Guðmunda Sigurðardóttir.
- Tvö hundruð þúsund naglbítar (Two Hundred Thousand Pliers) is a combination of Sigurjón Pétursson and Jóhann Þ. Jósefsson.
Early Icelandic reviewers read the book primarily as a satire on the politics of the day; it has traditionally been seen as one of Laxness's weaker works, though it has long been read as Iceland's first urban novel, foreshadowing the prominence of Reykjavík in more recent literature. However, more recent critics have seen it as offering more enduring theological, philosophical and political commentary: Giuliano D'Amico, for example, argues that 'neither with the Americans nor with the Soviets, the characters of Atómstöðin seem to advocate for a “Third Europe” that ... resembles the “third space” articulated by postcolonial theory'.
Laxness endured political persecution for the novel: the Alþingi withdrew his state writer's stipend; he was prosecuted for describing an abortion; and 'Icelandic and American authorities even started investigating his periods of residence in America, with the hope of finding some fiscal irregularities and ruining him'. He also struggled to get the novel translated.
Influence and adaptations
Atómstöðin has been characterised as 'what many readers and critics gradually came to think of as the exemplary Reykjavík novel', focusing on urban Icelandic life for the first time.
The book was adapted as a film by Þorsteinn Jónsson in 1984. Through the film, the book has been seen to have continued resonances in twenty-first-century Iceland: 'the powerful imagery is coincidentally linked to the 2009 protests ... following the Icelandic banking crisis'.
- 'Atómstöðin', Þjóðviljinn, 69 (March 23rd, 1948), 1.
- Peter Hallberg, Halldór Laxness (Twayne, 1971), pp. 163--64.
- 'Segir Atómstöðina eiga sér fyrirmynd í tékkneskri bók', Morgunblaðið, 22.10.2004, http://www.mbl.is/frettir/innlent/2004/10/22/segir_atomstodina_eiga_ser_fyrirmynd_i_tekkneskri_b/.
- Giuliano D’Amico, 'The Whole World Is One Atom Station: Laxness, the Cold War, Postcolonialism, and the Economic Crisis in Iceland', Scandinavian Studies, 87 (2015), 457-88 (p. 459), https://muse.jhu.edu/article/616175.
- Ástráður Eysteinsson and Úfhildur Dagsdóttir, 'Icelandic Prose Literature, 1940--2000', in A History of Icelandic Literature, ed. by Daisy Nejmann, History of Scandinavian literatures, 5 (University of Nebraska Press: 2007), pp. 404--70 (p. 411).
- John Macqueen, “Theology and The Atom Station”, in Afmæliskveðjur heiman og handan. Til Halldórs Kiljans Laxness sextugs, ed. by Jakob Benediktsson, Sigurður Þórarinsson, Kristján Karlsson, and Tómas Guðmundsson (Reykjavík: Helgafell, 1962), pp. 80–83.
- Ármann Jakobsson, 'Nietzsche í Grjótaþorpinu: siðferði manns og heims í Atómstöðinni', Andvari, 127 (2002), 127--42. http://timarit.is/view_page_init.jsp?gegnirId=000503386.
- Giuliano D’Amico, 'The Whole World Is One Atom Station: Laxness, the Cold War, Postcolonialism, and the Economic Crisis in Iceland', Scandinavian Studies, 87 (2015), 457-88 (p. 468), https://muse.jhu.edu/article/616175.
- Giuliano D’Amico, 'The Whole World Is One Atom Station: Laxness, the Cold War, Postcolonialism, and the Economic Crisis in Iceland', Scandinavian Studies, 87 (2015), 457-88 (p. 461), https://muse.jhu.edu/article/616175.
- Ástráður Eysteinsson and Úfhildur Dagsdóttir, 'Icelandic Prose Literature, 1940--1980', in A History of Icelandic Literature, ed. by Daisy Nejmann, History of Scandinavian literatures, 5 (University of Nebraska Press: 2007), pp. 404--70 (p. 411). ISBN 978-0-8032-3346-1.
- Eysteinn Þorvaldsson, 'Icelandic Poetry Since 1940', in A History of Icelandic Literature, ed. by Daisy Nejmann, History of Scandinavian literatures, 5 (University of Nebraska Press: 2007), pp. 471-- (p. 474). ISBN 978-0-8032-3346-1.
- Atómstöðin (1984) - IMDb "Archived copy". Archived from the original on June 19, 2006. Retrieved 2013-05-08.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link) CS1 maint: BOT: original-url status unknown (link)
- Helga Þórey Jónsdóttir, 'Atomic Station', in World Film Locations: Reykjavík, ed. by Jez Connolly and Caroline Whelan (Bristol: Intellect Books, 2012), pp. 14-15 (14).