An unreliable biography

It’s my stop on the blogger tour! The Call of the Cormorant is Donald Murray’s unreliable biography of Karl Einarsson, a child born in the Faroe Islands who became a serial scammer living in Nazi Berlin. It was more like a wholly fictional tale, so outrageous was Karl’s life. It’s a very unusual book, full of intriguing references to places I have never been to (and can’t even pronounce!).

From the author of the prize-winning As the Women Lay Dreaming comes a remarkable ‘unreliable biography’ of Karl Kjerúlf Einarsson: an artist and an adventurer, a polyglot and a performer, a charlatan and a mountebank, forever in search of Atlantis. As a child in the windswept, fog-bound Faroe Islands in the late nineteenth century, Karl Einarsson believes he is special, destined for a life of art and adventure. As soon as he can, he sets out for Copenhagen and beyond, styling himself as the Count of St. Kilda. He’s an observer and citizen of nowhere, a serial swindler of aristocrats and Nazis, fishermen and fops. But when his adventures find him in 1930s Berlin, he is forced for the first time to reckon with something much bigger than himself. As the Nazis rise to power around him, his wilful ignorance becomes unwitting complicity, even betrayal. Based on a true story, this is a fantastical tale of island life, of those who leave and those who stay behind, and the many dangers of delusions and false identities.

The characters are extremely well observed. Karl is not a likeable fellow! I enjoyed the inclusion of narration from others around him, allowing us to see his full character, for good and bad. He was a child with such potential and a desire to travel, yet he ultimately used his talents and ability to mimic for ill-gotten gains. In stark contrast, his sister Christianna leads a much less rich life and, despite temptation, stays on the right side of the law and morality. Her presence grounded the book and reminded us how Karl could have gone down a different path.

Donald’s writing is interesting, unpredictable and unusual. He brings in all sorts of literary references, giving me a real understanding of the time’s dark historical events and conspiracy theories.

Donald S Murray is a writer and poet whose work has been awarded The Society of Authors’ Paul Torday Memorial Prize and the Callum Macdonald Memorial Award at Scotland’s National Book Awards 2021. His critically acclaimed books bring to life the culture and nature of the Scottish islands, and he appears regularly on BBC Radio 4 and BBC Radio Scotland.

Donald Murray

I was given a free copy of the book in return for an honest review by Random Things Tours.

Hannah is the author of The Cactus Surgeon, a nature & health memoir. Living in London, Hannah suffered burnout and was diagnosed with a functional neurological disorder. With no information available to help her, she found her own way to get better.

Growing up in a garden centre, her childhood was full of nature and plants. This starkly contrasted with the concrete of the capital, where she became unwell. In searching for the answers to her illness, she wonders whether being torn from her pot and replanted in a more hostile environment was why her body started to malfunction.

After seeking out alternative therapies, and moving to the countryside of North Essex, her ‘green recovery’ continued. It’s a book of mindful moments, savouring the small wonders of nature.

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