Thórarinn Leifsson gained impressive coverage in the Danish newspaper Politiken in the middle of december 2009 on account of Father’s Big Secret. Not only was there a two-page interview in the paper’s literary supplement, but Leifsson’s drawings also graced the front pages of both the main paper and the literary supplement.
Interview By Tine Maria Winther, Politiken book editor, Reykjavik:
In the three storey bookshop on Laugavegur, the main street of Reykjavik Fathers big secret is ready for Christmas season.
The children’s book about siblings whose father is a cannibal is number eight on the bestseller list, and author Thorarinn Leifsson is quite happy, he says as he fetches me from the entrance of the book store in his green Nissan Micra.
The interview was almost cancelled, first the author had Swine flu, then he got a blod clot in his leg.
“How is the leg? I enquire as i take a seat in the Micra.
“How do you know about that?”, he replies.
“I have been in iceland since last night …”.
“I see”, he replies. “News travel fast up here.”
Looks like a cannibal
Thorarinn Leifsson og and his wife, Audur Jónsdóttir, who is also an Author, live in the old west town, near the harbor, where the whale ships usually are.
They are at sea right now, he says as he parks.
Home in the apartment he seats himself with the
leg high up, laughing loudly when i place the recorder in front of him and say that now
he is going to talk over Einar Már Gudmundsson who has been interviewed before on the same tape.
“Thanks”, he replies. “Thats not an easy task by the way!”.
Leifsson is a big man, in fact he looks like the cannibal in his children’s book, a fact he in no way tries to dismiss, he claims in perfect seventies danish.
The language he learned when his parents moved to Denmark in 1971, first at “some school in Holte” followed by the former Rosenvangskole on Osterbro, until the family moved back to iceland in 1976.
The Cannibal is a danish man of the house
And the Cannibal in the big striped underwear is danish. Inspired by a landlord Leifsson met when he was back as a grown man in Copenhagen.
“My wife and I met a gentleman, who had an apartment on Norrebro, on the other side of Assistens Cemetary. When we came to look at it, he was parading around half naked, just like the dad. I wrote a blog about this character and got the idea for the look of the cannibal.
In that period there was also a lot of talk about Cannibalism in the news, there was a trial in Germany against a man who ate another man who he met on the internet (Armin Meiwes from Hessen killed and ate a 43 old compute engineer).
“That was just so far out! Leifsson remembers and explains that he had almost finished “Fathers Big Secret” when it occurred to him that there was more to the story than the simple tale of a father who eats his children’s teacher and classmates:
“Finally I saw the symbolism – that the cannibalism in my book is an allegory for family dysfunctions, and how kids feel when they don’t want to tell how things are at home”.
Nobody does anything
In Fathers Big Secret the police and neighbors suspect something is wrong, but neither them nor the kids mother step in.
“Everyone is sort of in on keeping the secret secret. I don’t judge, it is not a self help book – In fact I didn’t approve of the special inscription on the front cover which says “a book for children with problematic parents” but I write about how children feel about that kind of thing”, he says and adds thoughtfully:
“That children love their parents no matter what they do. That’s sort of
The children do turn in the father, when he eats one of their friends?
“Yes, it must be like that. They are tired of cleaning the meat grinder in the cellar, tired of being silent about the whole thing. At the time I wanted to end the story by having the father fly away as a balloon. But then it ended with him going to rehab, and that is perhaps just as good”.
The book has had a warm welcome in Germany and Denmark among other places.
In Politiken Steffen Larsen concluded that it is: “… a hallucinant firecracker … a wise story”.
And in the book fair in Bologna, Hamburg and Copenhagen the author took great pleasure in serving human meat, cut of fingers an accountant brains to the readers.
Danish editor would not write
But have there been any angry reactions?
“There was a humorous incident in Denmark, where the editor of “Skolebiblioteket”(School library) refused to write about the book because it was “uncomfortable”,” Leifsson says and it appears to suit him very well:
“Its no use building glass walls around children, they have to venture out in the world alone eventually. But we can help them work out some difficult issues and not just let them sit around and be raised by the internet.
Thorarinn Leifsson, who is being nicknamed The Roald Dahl of Iceland ( Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, editors note) thinks children books should be read by children and grownups alike.
“We don’t have that tradition here, the way you have it in Denmark. You have the author writing about the rhinoceros … why cant I remember his name now, It wasn’t in the brains i got a blood clot … oh of course Ole Lund Kierkegaard! I am crazy about him. In Iceland we don’t have that tradition, where men write children books and are serious about it.”
Street-painter in Europe
Thorarinn Leifsson has a degree from the Art Academy of Reykjavik, and as a teenager he painted his way around Europe as a Street painter. The paintings can still be found on google. Humphrey Bogart in front of the Strasbourg church, to give an example.
“When I was a teenager, I was traveling, and I finally I stumbled up on some street painters in Seville. I learned to paint on the street an quickly became good at it. Often I had money to live in hotels, even if we usually lived just outside the cities”.
That was a wild time. A hobo world. I and a friend nearly became hashish smugglers from Morocco. Nothing became of it … But then we were in Morocco begging in the richer parts of town until we had the money to go back to Europe again. In Morocco you couldn’t paint on the street.
In his illustrations Leifsson uses Photoshop and combines photographs of hair and eyes with his own lines. The reality behind makes everything more grotesque.
“Thats digital cannibalism! And my characters always have a lot of teeth. Perhaps I should consult a shrink one of these days …”
The book is intended for 9-14 year old children, its not set in any particular city, but parts of the book is written in Copenhagen: “Notice all the hot dogs stands in it. Copenhagen and Norrebros spirit is in it. In my new book (Grandmothers Library, editors note) there is more Reykjavik to it”.
Icelandic kids still read a lot, Thorarinn Leifsson reasons, also horror stories.
“I don’t think children are scared that easily, I guess grownups tend to underestimate them? Of course one most not go to far, but I have an editor that ensures that doesn’t happen,” he laughs loudly and a bit diabolically.
When i descent down the stairs and in to the snow I count my fingers just in case.
Politiken interview is still online. It was translated to English by Bodvar Leifsson