Red Milk

Written by Sjón Victoria Cribb (trans.)
Review by K. M. Sandrick

A dead man is found on a train at Cheltenham Spa. Policemen identify the man as Gunnar Pálsson Kampen from Reykjavik. They do not notice the three men in black shirts running away.

Author Sjón is an Icelandic novelist, winning the Nordic Council’s Literary Prize for The Blue Fox and every Icelandic literature prize for Moonstone—The Boy Who Never Was. In Red Milk, he profiles a neo-Nazi, describing Gunnar’s early years interacting with his mother, father, and two sisters, a senior secondary school teacher, and an aunt in the immediate post-WWII period. Letters penned by Gunnar from 1954 through 1959 relate his involvement with the creation of the Sovereign Power Movement and the Greek fascist Savitri Devi Mukherji. Finally, the story recounts Gunnar’s trip to London to meet other neo-Nazis, including George Lincoln Rockwell of the United States, and his death on the train.

In the epilogue to the narrative, Sjón explains that he cast aside emotional connections with neo-Nazis’ narratives to show that Gunnar and others like him “come from childhoods fundamentally similar to our own… they could … easily become something else.” His goal: to make his character “normal, to the point of banality.”

While the wish to minimize, as he noted, “everything that ultimately serves to make Nazism exotic,” is understandable, a just-the-facts approach leaves too much in the dark. At least this reader seeks more context and connection, a deeper sense of motivation, an ending that lifts the veil of suspicion.

To this reader, Gunnar’s glass of red milk is half-full.