Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander readers are respectfully cautioned that this website contains images of people who have passed away.

The Promise of Iceland

In 1990, Kári Gíslason travelled to Iceland to meet his father for the first time. What he finds is not what he expected.

Available. Dispatched 2-3 business days

Born from a secret liaison between a British mother and an Icelandic father, Kári Gíslason was the subject of a promise – a promise elicited from his father to not reveal his identity. The Icelandic city of Reykjavík, where Kári was born, was also home to his father and his father’s wife and five children – none of whom knew of Kári’s existence. Moving regularly between Iceland and Australia, he grew up aware of his father’s identity, but understanding that it was the subject of a secret pact between his parents. At the age of 27, he makes a decision to break the pact and contacts his father’s other family. What follows, and what leads him there, makes for a riveting journey over landscapes, time and memory.

Kári travels from the freezing cold winters of Iceland to the shark net at Sydney’s Balmoral, an unsettled life in the English countryside and the harsh yellow summer of Brisbane, and back again. He traces the steps of his mother who answered an ad in The Times for an English-speaking secretary in 1970 and found herself in Iceland among the ‘Army of Foreign Secretaries’, and in the arms of a secret lover. Iceland becomes the substitute for the father Kári never really knew as he discovers the meaning of ‘home’ and closes the circle of his own fatherless life.

Kári Gíslason
Photo by Nicholas Martin

Kári Gíslason

Kári Gíslason is a writer and academic who teaches creative writing and literary studies at QUT. He is the author of The Promise of Iceland (UQP, 2011), which told the story of return journeys he’s made to his birthplace, and the novels The Ash Burner (UQP, 2015) and The Sorrow Stone (UQP, 2022). He is also the co-author, with Richard Fidler, of Saga Land (HarperCollins, 2017), and has written works of travel journalism, essays, reviews and radio scripts.