Book review: The Window of Brimes

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Bill Holm’s newest book, The Windows of Brimnes, like Bill Holm, defies categorization.

Literally and figuratively, Holm strides across southwestern Minnesota’s windy central plains, a larger-than-life figure. Occasionally, he curses the darkness but, much more frequently, he lights candles, illuminating Minnesota, America and the communal Icelandic thread.

Published by Milkweed Editions, the volume captures Holm’s passion for his childhood home, Minneota, Minnesota and his ancestral Icelandic land. He brings it all together in his new Icelandic home, Brimnes, on Iceland’s ragged north coast.

The Windows of Brimnes is the story of southwest Minnesota’s hard-working people who settled the prairies and put great store in their children. The kind of people who first built a church and a school. Holm brings these people to life in his Icelandic immigrant grandparents, survivors of hardship. The people who put faith in their young people creating remarkable public schools, the kind that allowed me to graduate from Marshall High School and receive a Rhodes scholarship. The kind that meant I wasn’t surprised that one of very best investment bankers at my new firm, Piper Jaffray, graduated from Minneota High School.

The Windows of Brimnes is the legacy of occupying Armies and globalization. Iceland dramatically changed with the American military occupation’s during the Second World War.

A key strategic location led Iceland first to be occupied by Britain and then us finally resulting in more American soldiers living in Iceland than Icelanders for that period. Before World War II, Iceland was an island of farmers and fishers living on small plots of land and villages. Following the war, Icelanders created a city, Reykjavik, and industries. Through the last sixty years, Iceland emerged as bustling, commercial center. Holm depicts the losses of farmsteads and stories in a changing, modernizing Iceland.

It’s a story repeated across the world as countries become more like each other. Yet, Holm also identifies and shares Iceland specialness. It remains strongly connected to its past through the eerie fog, the volcanic landscape and the other-worldly beings they inspire. Through The Windows of Brimnes’ poetry and prose, Holm reminds us of the beauty of the Icelandic sagas, some of the very earliest European literature.

Finally, The Windows of Brimnes is a memoir. Holm recounts his childhood’s hazy memories and the richness of late adulthood discovery. We see a man growing older and moving back in time to the land of his ancestors. We learn how to think and feel away from the rush of our lives in the ways that Holm seeks quiet and reflection in playing music and watching the changeless fog.

Few writers could find and follow the Iceland-Minnesota thread; fewer still would care to. In Bill Holm, we experience the perfect balance of bluster and calm, as he refuses to surrender his past yet finding a future grounded in it.

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