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Adam Morgan is the editor-in-chief of the Chicago Review of Books who writes about place, books, and the arts for The Paris Review, Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Chicago magazine, and elsewhere. He now lives in Charlotte, NC.

Putting a New Stone on the Grave: Sjón Brings the Golem to Iceland

Door to attic of the Old New Synagogue where according to myth the golem rests. Slowcentury / Getty

Adam Morgan | Longreads | September 2018 | 10 minutes (2,560 words)

In the summer of 1990, an Icelandic writer named Sigurjón Birgir Sigurðsson traveled to Czechoslovakia with his friend, the singer-songwriter Björk. Their alternative rock band, The Sugarcubes, was performing in Prague because of the city’s folk status as the birthplace of the sugar cube. But while they were in town, Sigurðsson made a pilgrimage to the Old Jewish Cemetery, where the legendary creator of the Golem of Prague had been buried more than four centuries earlier. After placing a stone on his grave, Sigurðsson asked the rabbi for help solving a personal problem, and in exchange, promised to bring the golem into Icelandic literature.

Today, Sigurðsson goes by the name Sjón. In 2013, when his surreal novels were first translated into English by Victoria Cribb, critics compared him to Borges, Calvino, and Kafka. Most of his books are less than 200 pages, but this week sees the publication of CoDex 1962, a labyrinthine epic that invites comparison to Roberto Bolaño’s 2666. Originally published as three separate novels in Iceland in 1994, 2001, and 2016, CoDex 1962 is Sjón’s fulfillment of the pact he made in the Old Jewish Cemetery almost three decades ago. Read more…