Rakel Helmsdal

Gwenael Akira Helmsdal Carre
Rakel Helmsdal: Toran gongur. Picture book, Bókadeild Føroya Lærarafelags, 2023. Nominated for the 2024 Nordic Council Children and Young People’s Literature Prize.


The 14-year-old Aurora is the main narrator in the story Toran gongur (“Sound of Thunder”, not translated into English), which is set in a large house. Aurora lives with her father Marinus and her eight-year-old brother Kaspian on the middle floor. Above them live a mother and her daughter, Enara and Sirje, who have fled their homeland. Downstairs lives Madame Iris, a widow and retired classical pianist, and in the apartment next door lives the young and reclusive Viktor. The residents don’t have much contact with each other, but this changes one day when Aurora makes too much soup for dinner. The children invite the whole house to a communal dinner, and to everyone’s surprise, when all residents accept the invitation, they spend a cosy evening together. Sirje falls asleep on Kaspian and Aurora’s sofa, and the adults agree to let her sleep. There’s a storm during the night and the thunder rumbles on. The following morning, Sirje is gone. Everyone in the house goes out together to search for her, but she’s nowhere to be found. In their search for Sirje, they’re confronted with their personal problems and traumas, which are put into a new perspective within the newfound community. 


All the residents of the house carry some sort of pain in their souls. The father Marinus and the children, Aurora and Kaspian, miss their mother, who left them. Madame Iris is a widow and has lost the music in her life. Enara and her daughter Sirje have run away from war and there are hidden secrets underneath their shawls. Viktor is alone and doesn’t have enough confidence to go out into the world. The book changes narrators, and with this, we get a nuanced insight into their situation and relationships with each other. 


With Toran gongur, Rakel Helmsdal addresses a number of key issues in today’s society and our current global situation through words and images. The narrative is simple and complex at the same time. It addresses serious topics such as loneliness, grief and death, war and trauma, while also exploring different family dynamics, friendship, and the importance of community. 


The book is richly illustrated with powerful images, the product of a careful process developed by Helmsdal herself. She shapes figures and sews costumes, builds scenes, takes photographs, creates graphic prints, assembles images, and paints them with watercolours. The illustrations reinforce her textual world and have become a hallmark of her authorship. Both the images and the text contain interesting intertextual references to, among other things, older Faroese literature and international classics. 

Rakel Helmsdal (born in 1966) is a recognised and established Faroese author, who has made her mark in the Nordic countries. Since her debut in 1995, she has published numerous books for children as well as adults. This is the sixth time that she has been nominated for the Nordic Council Children and Young People’s Literature Prize.