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In the Marble Maze


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Gudnason captures his wife, Engilbjort, on the page, passing along her brightness while sharing his loss and learning to heal.

Icelandic literary tradition stretches back a thousand years and more. Its sagas of love, loss, and endurance are a unique contribution to the world’s literary heritage. They contain myths and legends, family histories and genealogies. Gudnason’s memoir echoes these ancient forms, building his lost wife, Engilbjort’s modern legend. Iceland’s current writers and artists record present-day sagas of triumph and tragedy with lyrics and lines of poetry aimed straight at the heart. The author draws on these as he shares his love story.

In the Marble Maze stays grounded through painful moments, bringing us inside Intensive Care units, guest houses, and the empty home to which the author returns without his beloved Engilbjort. Descriptions of complicated treatments and emergency surgeries don’t make for light reading, but Gudnason makes us members of Engilbjort’s circle. We are among those pulling for her as she fights for her life. The Facebook chat messages which could become myopic and exclusive are, instead, a warm way to touch our hearts in shared human grief.

Gudnason wants to remember. Counselling and books on living with grief are a comfort, but he is honest when the advice doesn’t resonate. “I don’t recall experiencing denial or anger, nor having attempted to bargain my way out of my loss,” he writes in response to the five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Yet, in optimistic Facebook posts, he denies that a stopped heart is the end of the line. Each risky surgery and private prayer for Engilbjort’s survival is a bargaining. The botched arrangements for the return of her remains provoke an anger Gudnason knows is out of character. As a grieving husband, he faces the sadness and acceptance of laying a loved one to rest.

In the Marble Maze is one of many memorials Gudnason creates for Engilbjort. As he sorts through relics, photos, and clothing, he takes time to remember. With songs and poetry from Iceland and around the world, he tells their story. He emphasizes family and community while giving it the gravity and timelessness of the greatest ancient sagas.

Reviewed by

Jennifer Frost lives in Woodland Hills, CA with her husband & 6-year-old son. With a degree in English Literature from the University of Iowa, Jennifer has spent her life as a devoted reader & secret writer. You can find her stories in Esoterica, East of the Web, and Deracine.


About the author

I live in Iceland, where I was born in 1973. In 2019, my wife died from a heart infection at the age of forty-six. We have two sons, twenty-two and sixteen years old. I've worked as a journalist, in corporate communications and as an advisor to a minister of government. Music is my main passion. view profile

Published on May 05, 2022

Published by

60000 words

Worked with a Reedsy professional 🏆

Genre: Biographies & Memoirs

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