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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


The Ambassador

Bragi Ólafsson

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To purchase The Ambassador

Title: The Ambassador
Author: Bragi Ólafsson
Genre: Novel
Written: 2006 (Eng. 2010)
Length: 298 pages
Original in: Icelandic
Availability: The Ambassador - US
The Ambassador - UK
The Ambassador - Canada
The Ambassador - India
Der Botschafter - Deutschland
  • Icelandic title: Sendiherrann
  • Translated by Lytton Smith

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Our Assessment:

B : genial tale of poetic misadventures

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Financial Times . 22/11/2010 Adrian Turpin
The Harvard Crimson . 19/10/2010 Aisha K. Down
The National . 8/10/2010 Sam Munson

  From the Reviews:
  • "A shaggy-dog story that at times reads like a sort of minor-key, Scandinavian rewrite of an English campus novel: charming, funny and strange in equal parts" - Adrian Turpin, Financial Times

  • "The Ambassador is a novel which is frequently entertaining in its juxtaposition of farce, whimsy, and profound elements of character. Itís unpredictable, and this adds no small measure of interest to the work as a wholeóbut its unpredictability often seems to result in false starts, and the end concludes far fewer issues than are raised. It also makes it hard to be swept up in the work as a whole, for while Ólafsson manages to portray a great many emotions in the work, few are developed enough to be consistently compelling." - Aisha K. Down, The Harvard Crimson

  • "Given its constituent parts, The Ambassador might have been just another satire of literary life, were it not for the bizarre, yet fully convincing, inner life of its hero. (...) That quiet intransigence makes The Ambassador far more than a corrosive joke aimed at literary pretension or a send-up of middle-aged mediocrity. Rather, it's an elusive, almost fabulistic study of the endlessly interesting question of character and of the representativeness of our deeds. Happy is the regional literature with such persuasive envoys." - Sam Munson, The National

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       The Ambassador centers entirely around Icelandic poet Sturla Jón Jónsson, and begins as he prepares to head to a literary festival in Lithuania. Fifty-one, with five children, he also works as a super, and he's just brought out a new volume of poetry. Before he sets out for Vilnius he springs for a big purchase -- an elegant coat --, visits his sprightly father (not all that much older -- he had Sturla when he was sixteen), who lends him a video of Abbas Kiarostami's Taste of Cherry which Sturla is then unable to return as promised the next day (typical of the kind of mishaps that seem to befall him left and right), and eventually he visits his mother too. He also writes piece -- presented here in full -- in which he describes how he imagines things will go at the international poetry festival he's been invited to (and, no, he doesn't have high hopes that it will go off brilliantly).
       Sturla makes it to Lithuania, and while things don't go quite as he had foreseen they don't go as presumably planned or hoped, either. He has problems with his fancy new coat, for one thing. And he's kept apprised of what is going on back in Iceland by his father, who keeps calling him, allowing Sturla to put that new cell phone bought specially for the trip to good use. Unfortunately, one of the things that's happening back home is that Sturla is making the headlines with his new poetry collection, as he's accused of plagiarizing his long-dead cousin's unpublished work -- ironic, given that the slightly jaded Sturla finds it hard to believe that anyone could be bothered to bother much with poetry.
       Sturla meanders along, allowing himself pretty much to be buffeted by chance and happenstance, taking good and bad fortune as they come (and they do come). It makes for a genial story, with some very funny scenes (and Sturla's literary-festival preview-piece is very enjoyable), though it plods along in part: this is a leisurely read, with Sturla the rather passive central figure moving steadily along as he encounters slightly quirky circumstances and people. There's rarely any sense of urgency in The Ambassador: fair enough -- and, for the most part, enjoyable enough -- but it makes for a very casual feel to the book, and leaves it ultimately feeling somewhat insubstantial, too.

- M.A.Orthofer, 23 September 2010

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The Ambassador: Reviews: Bragi Ólafsson: Other books by Bragi Ólafsson under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Icelandic author Bragi Ólafsson was born in 1962. He played bass for The Sugarcubes.

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