Anna María Bogadóttir

Anna María Bogadóttir

Anna María Bogadóttir 

Portrætfoto: Saga Sig
Anna María Bogadóttir: Jarðsetning. Biographical novel, Angústúra, 2022. Nominated for the 2024 Nordic Council Literature Prize.



How do our surroundings shape us as human beings? How do we best dispel the idea that Earth’s resources are inexhaustible? These are the questions raised by the architect Anna María Bogadóttir in her illustrated novel, Jarðsetning (in English; “Sedimentation”). The book is effectively juxtaposed with both an event organised by Bogadóttir at the large bank building of Iðnaðarbanki in Reykjavik city centre just before its demolition to make way for a new and more lucrative function, and a film with the same title about the demolition of the building, which premiered in 2021. In the book’s 40 illustrated spreads, which are prominently placed in the middle of the flow of the text, one can see Bogadóttir’s photographs from the demolition and stills from the film, as well as old black-and-white photographs capturing the building’s use and the life that unfolded there.  

The bank building forms an outer frame for the story, which deals with the building’s conception or birth, development, death, and finally burial. Even though the building was originally intended to be used for a long time, it was only allowed to fulfil its purpose for just over half a century before it was condemned and written off as disposable. Despite the building playing a significant role in Jarðsetning, the book is much more than just architectural non-fiction. With an original text and captivating illustrations, the author succeeds in building a bridge between architecture and literature. Jarðsetning is an impressive and personal work, where the author mirrors herself as a human being and her own life journey in the history of the building. For as Bogadóttir expresses it, houses, like the body, hold memories, and perhaps we’re all buildings – on our way to either disposal or fulfilment.  

Jarðsetning isn’t just a story about a building, but also the author’s own coming-of-age story, and in that sense, it’s a complex biographical novel. Bogadóttir shares her memories from growing up in a small fishing village in Iceland’s east fjords, her teenage years in Reykjavik, and her quest for the right education, which leads her to France to study French, back to Iceland to study literature, then to Denmark to study semiology and cultural studies, and finally to the US to study architecture.  

Parallel to her own bildungsroman, the author, as the first-person narrator, discusses the societal upheavals that have occurred due to technological advancements, increased internationalisation, and the growing influence of capitalism. As her horizon expands, she begins to harbour greater doubts about the benefits of different systems, where Bogadóttir becomes more and more aware that surface and substance don’t necessarily go hand in hand. Instead of just reading books and poems, the author deliberately starts to read houses in order to gain insight into their language and symbolism.  

Jarðsetning is a complex work which carries an important message for the present time. The author challenges societal ideologies and assessments driven by market and financial forces, where extravagance and waste at the expense of our planet have been allowed to continue uninterrupted for far too long. But as the author points out, preservation can actually be the most progressive solution, while demolition and new construction can be examples of conservatism.  

Even though the idea for the illustrated novel originates from the demolition of a building in Iceland, the author succeeds in creatively and poetically examining and analysing power systems, discourse, and hierarchies within a cultural-historical and international context. Jarðsetning is an important contribution to the discussion about a woman’s lot, which for a long time was not depicted in the public sphere and, even into the 20th century, didn’t have a significant voice in the male-dominated world of architecture. The author’s ingenious way of mirroring her own life in the bank building establishes empathy with the structure, making it difficult to bid farewell to at the end of the book when the demolition begins. At the same time, the ending marks an inevitable new beginning. This is an extraordinary and fantastic book.