Posted by: Lisa Hill | September 25, 2020

CoDex 1962 (2016), by Sjón, translated by Victoria Cribb

OK, it is not going to take me long to write this review because I failed to make sense of this book.

CoDex 1962 is actually a trilogy, which Wikipedia says consists of

  •  Thine Eyes Did See My Substance (A Love Story),
  • Iceland’s Thousand Years (A Crime Story), and
  • I’m a Sleeping Door (A Science Fiction Story).

Wikipedia also says

The book’s narration mimics the oral tradition of various folktales and religious texts, taking influence from Icelandic folklore and The Bible, with the narrator often expanding upon the plot by referencing these stories. CoDex 1962 explores themes of nationalism, social injustice, and the Jewish resettlement in Iceland during World War II.

Goodreads provided the blurb:

Jósef Loewe can recall the moment of his birth in August, 1962 and everything that has happened since – or so he claims to the woman listening to the tale of his life…

A love story
He begins with his father, Leo, a starving Jewish fugitive in World War II Germany. In a small-town guesthouse, Leo discovers a kindred spirit in the maid who nurses him back to health; together they shape a piece of clay into a baby.

A crime story
Leo escapes to Iceland with the clay boy inside a hatbox, only to become embroiled in a murder mystery. It is not until 1962 that his son Jósef can be born.

A science-fiction story
In modern-day Reykjavík, a middle-aged Jósef attracts the interest of a rapacious geneticist. Now, what lies behind Jósef’s tale emerges. And as the story of genesis comes full circle, we glimpse the dangerous path ahead for humankind.

In this epic novel, Sjón has woven ancient and modern material into a singular masterpiece – encompassing genre fiction, history, theology, folklore, expressionist film, poetry, comic strips, myth, drama and, of course, the rich tradition of Icelandic storytelling.

But I am here to tell you that I found its blend of genres chaotic and I did not understand what the book was on about.  The first book, about the Jewish refugee holed up in a guesthouse, was ok.  I didn’t like the flippant tone of the interlocutor who interrogates the narrator, but I understood what was going on. Except that I didn’t understand the point of having a clay baby instead of one conceived in the ordinary way.

The second book was about the pursuit of the thief who had stolen the gold that was crucial to the clay baby receiving the spark of life.  Maybe I didn’t understand it because I am (happily) unfamiliar with the tropes of crime fiction.

I did not understand the third book at all.  It obviously has to do  with a future in which Iceland trades in the DNA of its citizens and things have gone horribly wrong. But that’s as far as I got.

If you are still with me after this wholly inadequate review, I suggest you read the review at The Guardian. 

#Muttering There are times when I feel I should abandon my  policy of reviewing everything I read…

Author: Sjón
Title: Codex 1962
Translated from the Icelandic by Victoria Cribb
Publisher: Sceptre, and imprint of Hodder & Stoughton (Hachette), 2020
ISBN: 9781473663039, pbk., 517 pages
Source: Personal copy $5 from the bargains table at The Grumpy Swimmer in Elwood.



  1. Ha. Sometimes we just come across books that just flummox us!


    • Yes, well this one did. I usually enjoy weird and strange but I think it was the science fiction side of things that lost me.


  2. Don’t do that! We still learned a little bit about the book. And a little bit about you. I don’t think we can expect to conquer every book – and then we have to decide who was at fault, the writer or the reader?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Alas, I think the review at The Guardian answers that question.


  3. At least the cover is pretty? 🤣


    • Yes, the cover is lovely. I like that style of illustration.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. And now I am intrigued….


  5. LOL! I know what you mean – I review everything I read too, and do sometimes wonder…


    • I think I should have stopped reading at the end of Bk 2,…

      Liked by 1 person

  6. The last time I felt like this was after reading clarice Lispector. And no, I didn’t review!


    • One of hers is in 1001 Books, but I’ve never been tempted.


  7. I didn’t get on with Sjon’s Blue Fox very well so I’m not about to pick up another. Sometimes writers are just not for you…


    • Bother, I’ve got that one on my TBR!


      • I hope you like it…

        Liked by 1 person

  8. I’m fascinated to know why you kept reading? It sounds like an immense effort to read the whole three books. Was there something that intrigued you even though it was all mystifying?


    • It *is* a bit hard to explain. Books 1 & 2 were not great, but sufficiently ok to keep reading, given that as a general rule I’m averse to jettisoning books. But Book 3… I think it was partly puzzlement, wanting to make sense of it, and partly just stubbornness!

      Liked by 1 person

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