Woman At 1000 Degrees Review

Woman At 1000 Degrees Review

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Woman at 1000 Degrees: A Novel by Hallgrímur Helgason is a newer Icelandic historical fiction novel about WWII, survival, love, and death.  A tragic and crude book set in Iceland, learn about Herra’s struggles as a displaced child of war.


Content/Trigger Warnings:  Rape, brutality, incest, war, child death, abandonment, and murder

Woman at 1000 Degrees: A Novel by Hallgrímur Helgason and translated by Brian FitzGibbon is a heartbreaking and intense historical fiction novel set during WWII in Iceland.  Through Herra, Helgason paints a grim picture of war and the all-encompassing power of Hitler’s grasp on a peaceful country.

Although Woman at 1000 Degrees received endless praise, the novel is equally entertaining and funny but also shrewd and a tad dragging.  Slightly disappointed, I expected more from Helgason.  However, I would not skip reading this title.

I also debate if the depressing and harsh tales of rape and a violent marriage affected my judgment of the title.  Herra is disgustingly honest and brutal just like the men who destroyed her.  Unlikable narrators are tough but also intriguing.  In many ways, Woman at 1000 Degrees is brilliant and evokes all the emotions.

Suffice it to say, I have a love-dislike relationship with Woman at 1000 Degrees.

Woman at 1000 Degrees: A Novel by Hallgrímur Helgason is a newer Icelandic historical fiction novel about WWII, survival, love, and death. Get the full review here. #bookreview #IcelandicFiction #booklovers Click To Tweet

Woman at 1000 Degrees Review Pinterest Cover with church and red book cover

Woman At 1000 Degrees: A Novel  Book Review

The year is 2009, and Herra is booking her cremation appointment.  Not yet dead, as her cancer spreads and emphysema worsens, Herra knows that she will not last until Christmas.  With a WWII grenade still in her clutches, she plans on embracing her fiery end while retching out a few last chuckles.

A modern woman, Herra lives out her less than golden years in a garage where she trolls helpless suckers on the internet.  Bitter and vile, Herra is a tell-it-like-it-is kind of gal.  She spends the novel flashing back to her childhood–if one can even call it that–and possibly defends her terrible role as a mother in the process.

How did Herra get here?

With an Icelandic father oddly joining Hitler’s army, Herra and her mother find themselves moving around Europe first with privilege and then with nothing.  Hitler is a drug to Herra’s father; one he cannot give up even after the addiction becomes fatal.

With the endless relocation, Herra faces discrimination and bullying.  Her education transforms into one taught by prostitutes and war. She learns about survival, deceit, and poor choices.  Ultimately thrown on a ship and abandoned on more than one occasion, young Herra must fend for herself largely without any adult supervision.

From multiple rapes to starving and watching the world succumb to war, Herra manages to survive. She even starts her own family.  Cyclical in nature, though, Herra becomes her parents, abandoning her children at a whim.  No wonder they take her inheritance pre-death and never visit.

Who Will Enjoy Woman at 1000 Degrees?

Herra’s character is loosely based on Brynhildur Georgía Björnsson, granddaughter of Iceland’s first Prime Minister.  Like Herra, Björnsson’s father fought for Hitler, a rare occurrence for Icelanders. Left alone, she too wandered aimlessly around Germany and lived in a garage.  Helgason’s story is less than flattering–I will certainly pass on him writing about me.

The first half of this book sucked in my interest.  Although you want to despise Herra, you can’t help but admire her spunk and spark of life.  As you learn about the tragedies suffered, you gain insight into her unpolished character.  I felt empathy, repulsion, and understanding.  Yet, halfway through, I had enough.

I can’t quite pinpoint my loss of interest.  Pacing? Brutality that is important to acknowledge but hard on the heart? Dislike for Herra as a mother? Did I like Herra, just a little?  Or, could I at least appreciate her? Respect her?  I laughed.  I cried.

With that criticism, though, I would still highly recommend Woman at 1000 Degrees. As newer Icelandic fiction, the story offers a unique tale of an Icelandic family involved in the war–on Hitler’s side. Well-written and emotionally stirring, you honestly cannot skip this title.

Find your copy of Woman at 1000 Degrees here:    Amazon     Barnes and Noble    Book Depository

Woman at 1000 Degrees Book Information:

Woman at 1,000 Degrees: A Novel by Hallgrímur Helgason and translated by Brian FitzGibbon [Algonquin Books 2018]

Genre: Historical Fiction

Hallgrímur Helgason is an Icelandic writer and artist.  Read more about Hallgrímur Helgason.

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Woman at 1000 Degrees Red Book Cover

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9 Comments

  1. March 15, 2019 / 8:57 am

    Ooh! This one sounds right up my alley (yeah, I know, I like grim stuff). I haven’t actually heard of this one, though I had heard of his other book, The Hitman’s Guide to Housecleaning, but haven’t picked either up yet.

    The Hitler aspect is very interesting. As you say, very uncommon for Icelanders. And I actually didn’t know that about the Prime Minister… I’m learning so much from your Iceland posts!

    I think stories that can be hard to read (because of content), can often be really rewarding. But then again, I seem to read exclusively hard books, so maybe I’m just weird. Still, it’s one I definitely want to check out… when I finally find the time! Ahh! So many good books, never enough time!!

    • March 15, 2019 / 9:40 am

      My reading skews toward the difficult and depressing as well. I’ve been actively trying to shove it more toward the middle of the road and balancing it out with some lighter material this year, but my last several reads have been harder (I’ve had both friends and therapists comment on my reading material in a “Whoa, you read some heavy stuff…” kind of way), and so it’s time to move back in the other direction. You’re not weird…unless we’re both weird, which may be the case. 😀 In any case, you’re not alone!

      • Christine
        Author
        March 16, 2019 / 5:34 pm

        I never really considered my reading habits and choices to be an insight into my personality or being. This might be very personal so definitely don’t feel like you have to answer, but did your therapist have any insight into your love of dark and depressing books? I only ask because now I am going to think/examine about what I lean toward reading and what that possibly says (or doesn’t say) about me.

        I also find some of these stories repulsive but also addicting, uplighting, and unique. Everyone needs a voice, and it deserves to be heard. I don’t love all light and fluffy books either.

    • Christine
      Author
      March 16, 2019 / 5:29 pm

      I haven’t read The Hitman’s Guide to Housecleaning. I will have to look that one up–I’m guessing it is just as bleak.

      This book definitely opened my eyes to Iceland’s place (or lack of place) in the war. I don’t think I ever really considered or thought about Iceland in relation to WWII, honestly.

      Unlike you, I cannot say that I love reading hard books…or scary ones. I definitely agree, though: they are also thoroughly rewarding and are the ones that you will never forget. They tend to leave a mark, good or bad. I’m still reeling over this one.

      I do think you’d love Woman at 1000 Degrees for your dark tourism niche too.

  2. March 15, 2019 / 8:06 pm

    Hmmm I don’t know if I can handle this one! Maybe if I travel to Iceland I will pick it up? It sounds intriguing though. I like that it sounds like there are funny aspects to it. So actually, now I might be a bit interested.

    • Christine
      Author
      March 16, 2019 / 5:35 pm

      It’s definitely intriguing. I think there are other titles that you might enjoy more than Woman at 1000 Degrees. But, if you love historical fiction, this one and Burial Rites rule.

  3. March 19, 2019 / 3:34 pm

    Um, how did I miss this post?!

    Well, I was completely sucked into this review and I can totally see myself reading this and unable to put this down. Sounds like a great read, even with all the hurt and tragedy.

    • Christine
      Author
      March 19, 2019 / 4:48 pm

      Hehe, I don’t know, but it definitely happens to me too. WP reader doesn’t tell me anything much these days, but I usually catch things via Pinterest or Twitter, eventually.

      Our library system has multiple ways to download ebooks these days (it’s no longer just OverDrive or Hoopla). I found this one for free in their FReading catalog, which I love. I used it for The Warrior Maiden too.

  4. March 19, 2019 / 8:43 pm

    Your relationship with this book sounds like it would be my relationship with it. Historical fiction is a top genre for me, so I’d be sucked in for that alone, but a main character that’s not your typical, moral, good-guy protagonist is always a toughie. (Of course, most every protagonist is human, and their flaws contribute to the overarching conflict of the plot in some way or another, but you know what I mean.) When the character you’re rooting for also has some negative qualities, it sometimes makes it harder for you to root for them. Great review, and despite the dark elements, I’m pretty intrigued!

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