The Scent of Light

By (author): Kristjana Gunnars

Introduction by: Kazim Ali

Kazim Ali introduces five autofiction novellas by Kristjana Gunnars—available in the U.S. for the first time, in a single, handsome volume

“Between the late eighties and late nineties, Kristjana Gunnars published five transgeneric novels comprised of a scintillating blend of fiction, autobiography, literary theory, and philosophy. Elusive and poetic… rigorous yet passionate…these books were treasured by a devoted readership and have been lauded by critics throughout the years since.” – Kazim Ali, from the introduction

From a childhood in Cold War Iceland to love affairs and deaths, these short works document a life of perpetual motion, told a discontinuous, subversive style to reflect the singular, feminist, nomadic life of the narrator.

It is a life of thought, an ongoing engagement with writers from Proust to Kierkegaard to Kristeva, seeking and often finding a companionship in the writing of others. These five spellbinding narratives act as a bending bow, open to what life has to offer day by day and taking the gentler course, wherein nothing is forced and life’s big questions remain beautifully unanswered.

The Prowler is a reminiscence of childhood spent in Iceland, seen from a distance with the Cold War as a backdrop, just before the hyper-modernization of the mid-sixties, when the air of the past was still discernible. When an orange was a delicacy against the darkness. This is Gunnars’ most lauded novella.

Zero Hour is a contemplation and remembrance of the narrator’s father and his death. The narrative traces the course of the father’s illness and final moments, and confronts the reality and grief of absolute endings.;

The Substance of Forgetting is ultimately about happiness. Set in a lush valley in central B.C., the narrator begins to awaken to possibilities of love and transcendence.

The Rose Garden is set in Germany and the narrator is on an academic exchange wherein all that happens are things that are not supposed to happen.

Night Train to Nykøbing is a darker exploration of life’s (and love’s) unknowns and the dangers inherent in choices we make. The narrator is travelling between Vancouver and Oslo in a continuous back and forth that gives rise to a sense of the liminality of life itself.


Kazim Ali

Born in the UK and raised in Canada, Kazim Ali is a Queer, Muslim writer who is currently professor and chair of the Department of Literature at the University of California, San Diego. He is the author of 25 books of poetry, fiction, non-fiction, and translations, as well as the editor of five collected volumes. In 2004, he co-founded the small press Nightboat Books and served as its first publisher, and he continues to edit books with the press. Ali is also a certified yoga instructor, teaching yoga and training yoga teachers in Ramallah, Palestine for many years.


Kristjana Gunnars

Kristjana Gunnars is a writer and painter, author of several books of various genres, and she frequently exhibits her artwork in Canada. She has participated in Buddhist groups and retreats with Tibetan teachers in years past. She lives in British Columbia, Canada. She is currently Visiting Professor in Languages and Literature at the University of Iceland in Reykjavik.


“Any readers new to Kristjana Gunnars’ work can count on Kazim Ali’s introduction to this reissue to prepare us for the elements of fiction, autobiography, literary theory and philosophy that coalesce in her prose.” –Marcie McCauley,Chicago Review of Books

“Gunnars questions what writing accomplishes when memory and emotions are fleeting, in her sophisticated omnibus of autofiction and literary criticism.” – Publishers Weekly

“Gunnars uses form and theme to push past many of the boundaries of conventional fiction and nonfiction, and the stories she has produced are ripe and bursting with food for thought.” – Kris Rothstein, PRISIM international

“Coach House has collected five short, perpetually migratory Gunnars books for The Scent of Light, as rewarding and important a compilation as Fanny Howe’s Radical Love.” – Sasha Frere-Jones, 4Columns

“The five works within The Scent of Light offer readers entrance into a deeply magnificent coalescence of human experience, and with mystery and grace, Kristjana Gunnars and her protagonists lead the way through one immense, remarkable life.” – Regan Mies, Necessary Fiction

“Kristjana Gunnars’s The Scent of Light is a work unyielding in its sensuality, uniquely attuned to the slippery nature of reading in the Information Age.” – Dashiel Carrera, Rain Taxi Review of Books

“There is such a lovely and lyric interiority to her passages. Gunnars’ novels exist as much through ideas, theory and speculation, writing internal monologues over descriptive scenes, and writing out the ways in which one writes, far beyond simply offering a story told through sentences.” – rob mclennan

“As her community of readers has known for over 30 years, there is nothing quite like Kristjana Gunnars’ project in contemporary Canadian writing.” – Neil Besner, Winnipeg Free Press


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336 Pages
8.5in * 5.75in * 0.85in


May 17, 2022


Coach House Books



Book Subjects:

FICTION / Feminist

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