What if you could stop time? Would it work? Would it even be a good idea?
That is the core dilemma in The Casket of Time, an intricately plotted, carefully wrought, and beautifully translated book for YA readers by Icelandic author, poet and former presidential candidate Andri Snær Magnason. Made up of two interwoven stories about personal responsibility, greed, consequences, and two ways of stopping time, The Casket of Time was shortlisted for GLLI’s 2020 YA Translated Book Prize.
One of the book’s two strands takes place on a not-too-distant future earth, during “the situation,” an interminable, unspecified global economic collapse. The adults all purchase a TimeBox®—one per person—and pop their whole families in, setting the timer to awaken them when the stock market has recovered. But when some children and teens wake up early, nothing has been fixed. (How could it, when those who could actually make a difference have abandoned the world’s problems for someone else to solve while they slumber?) Along with a mysterious old woman named Grace, the “woke” children are left to try to re-right the world.
The other strand is a fairy tale that Grace tells the children. Set in a faraway place and an ancient time when the world was still one continent, the tale is a Brothers Grimm mash-up. In it, we meet the King of Pangea, who misuses the secret of talking to animals to conquer the world and loves his daughter so dearly that he can’t bear to see her beauty ravaged by time. In that typical fairy tale way, he promises half his kingdom to anyone who can keep her young; eventually some dwarves arrive with a magic casket. Yet, the king’s greed, bad faith and worse stewardship doom the kingdom to eventual ruin. (Warning: For those who might be affected, his ascent and decline are littered with corpses and often graphic brutality.)
The two intertwined stories—one set in the past and the other in the future—merge near the end of the book into one satisfying conclusion. You’ll have to read The Casket of Time to find out how and what happens in this quirky, richly detailed, marvelous morality tale.
The Casket of Time
Written by Andri Snær Magnason
Translated from the Icelandic by. Björg Arnadóttir and Andrew Cauthery
2019, Restless Books
Awards: 2020 GLLI YA Translated Book Prize Short list; 2020 Green Earth Awards Honor Book; Icelandic Literary Prize for Children and Young People’s Books, winner; Icelandic Booksellers Prize for Best Teenage Book of the Year, winner; Nordic Council Children and Young People’s Literature Prize, nominee; West Nordic Literature Prize, nominee; Reykjavik Children’s Literature Prize, nominee
Award-winning opera singer Nanette McGuinness is the translator of over 50 books and graphic novels for children and adults from French, Italian, and German into English, including the well-known Geronimo Stilton Graphic Novels. Two of her latest translations, Luisa: Now and Then (Humanoids, 2018) and California Dreamin’: Cass Elliot Before the Mamas & the Papas (First Second, 2017) were chosen for YALSA’s Great Graphic Novels for Teens; Luisa: Now and Then was also a 2019 Stonewall Honor Book. Her most recent translations are Super Sisters, Undead Messiah #3, Bibi & Miyu, and Brina Cat 2: City Cat.