The Fires – An Iceland Volcano Disrupts a Woman’s Life
“You know, eruptions might be a little hard while they’re happening but without them, we wouldn’t be here.”
Anna Arnasóttir is Iceland’s leading expert on volcanoes. And while fear of volcanoes – the destruction and death they can create – is a normal reaction to these fiery beasts, for Anna volcanoes are a life force. After an eruption, Anna’s daughter complains that she can’t go outside and play. Gray ash covers the ground and settles in trees. With each breath, the ash is drawn into the lungs, coats eyes, and often is swallowed along with dinner. And while tourists flock to Iceland to see volcanoes, when these fiery hills are alive, danger follows and tourism suffers.
Sigríður Hagalín Björnsdóttir (Credit: Benedikt & Sigurjón Ragnar)
Sigrídur Hagalín Björnsdóttir ’s The Fires brings these volcanoes alive, with descriptions that are so real one thinks she might have been out there taking notes during the last eruption. But The Fires is about more than volcanoes. It’s also a love story. Like the earth, Anna’s world is shaken to the core when she risks her marriage to have an affair.
Anna keeps bumping into Tòmas Adler, an artist, but it’s during a party where she sees a portrait he’s done of her that she begins to fall in love with him. He gives her the portrait, but Anna hides it in her office. While it’s just a portrait, Anna knows it’s something more, somehow revealing a part of her that she keeps hidden.
Anna’s husband, Kristinn, is a good man who makes a good living and keeps himself in physical shape. Lately, however, Anna senses that they are growing apart. Attending a birthday party for a colleague, Jóhannes, who believes he’s Indiana Jones, Kristinn becomes annoyed, wanting to leave early. Anna has her second encounter with Tòmas and when he sends her an email inviting her to his studio, she responds.
After an awkward greeting and a cup of coffee, Anna falls into his arms. ”I am in love with Tòmas Adler, my life as I know it is over, and I haven’t even kissed him.” What follows are encounters when Anna tries to shut down her emotions and fails. After they finish making love on her desk, she tells him this has to stop, that he is destroying her happiness. “It’s not real happiness. You’re living a lie,” he responds. How many affairs begin this way?
Anna becomes two women – one the loyal wife and mother who shops for food, makes dinner, fluffs the pillows on the sofa, and kisses her husband on the cheek. The other tells lies, seeks off every possible moment to meet her lover, and hopes no one will discover her secret. But when Elisabeth comes into her office and closes the door, Anna knows the game is up. The walls in her office are thin and her colleagues have heard Anna and Tòmas making love. Anna has an enviable position as the spokesperson for the Scientific Council. If she continues the affair she will put at risk not only her marriage, but her career.
Besides collecting evidence when a volcanic eruption occurs, Anna takes on the responsibility of predicting when the next one will happen. And when the nation’s most populous section is threatened with an eruption, she’s pushed to make a decision. Declaring an emergency would have an economic impact. The 23,000 tourists might panic and leave. There is volcanic activity, but is it enough to force an evacuation?
The remainder of the book is pulse-pounding as Anna races to save the ones she loves while the area is on fire and being buried in ash. An intense ending to a well researched and beautifully written novel.
Sigrídur Hagalín Björnsdóttir
Top photo: Sigrídur Hagalín Björnsdóttir in front of the volcano