CoDex 1962 by Sjón (translated by Victoria Cribb)

Open this novel, step into a world of complex storytelling, and wonder…

Paradoxically, I was tempted to pick up this novel by a less than positive review by a friend.  Her reference to a clay baby receiving the spark of life had me intrigued.  Was this the story of a golem? 

Jósef Loewe claims to remember the moment of his birth in 1962 and everything that has happened since.  But while 1962 is significant, it is not the beginning.  First, the skeleton of the story.  The first book in this trilogy is a love story.  Jósef’s father Leo, a starving Jewish fugitive in World War II Germany, is nursed back to health by a maid in a small town.  Together they fashion a baby boy from clay.  The second story in the trilogy is a crime story.  Leo escapes to Iceland with the clay baby in a hatbox, but he cannot yet be born.   Leo needs a magical ring.  But Leo becomes caught up in a murder mystery: life is dangerous and complicated.   Leo applies for citizenship of Iceland. In August 1962, Jósef is born.  The third book is a science-fiction story.  Now middle-aged in Reykjavík, Jósef attracts the attention of a geneticist.  CoDex, a fictional company, wants to decode the country’s genome.

That is the skeleton (more or less) of the story, but Sjón has fleshed it out in interesting ways. This is a novel full of side-tracks and diversions, including history, theology, and folklore.  I am sure that I missed the significance of some aspects, but various parts reached out and fully grabbed my attention.  Such as the Berserker and the chick.

This is no linear narrative with a clear pathway from beginning to end. It is full of digressions and shifts in pace.  It is a gallimaufry of ideas and stories, a book I may have to revisit.

‘With this book, as with any other, we should bear in mind that although the author has chosen to bring the story to a conclusion, it is in fact far from over.’

Jennifer Cameron-Smith