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The Mark (Merking)

Translated into English by Larissa Kyzer


WINNER of the Optimist Award 2021, awarded by the President of Iceland
WINNER of the Icelandic Bookseller's Award 2021 for Fiction
of the Icelandic Women’s Prize for Fiction 2022



THE MARK is a polyphonic novel set in Reykjavík in the near-future, a society divided by a development in social technology—a diagnostic tool called The Empathy Test that measures compassion or amorality. In less than two months, a national referendum will determine whether ‘marking’ will become compulsory. Four main characters face dilemmas around their agency and autonomy while navigating everyday desires and duties, and the dawn of irreversible changes in healthcare ethics, socioeconomic stability and the cultural fabric lay bare the balance of their loyalties and conflicts. A novel exploring partisanship and polarization, prejudice and empathy, THE MARK heralds the impactful, full-length debut from one of Iceland’s most exciting young authorial voices.


"Every sentence brings something new, every dialogue shifts the atmosphere in the room. With an eye for the contemporary and convincing attention for her characters, Frída Ísberg takes a big step into the literary world"

P.O Enquist Prize judges

"Nothing more oppressive than other people’s good intentions—at least not in Frida Isberg’s gripping and sharply imagined novel. In a series of gradually intertwining plotlines, The Mark presents crucial ethical questions about the risks of social engineering and the boundaries of individual agency. Part of what makes Isberg’s novel so important is that it treats all sides of the argument with equal respect and nuance, something increasingly rare in our own polarized reality. An absolutely stunning debut"

– Hernan Diaz

"This novel is brilliant. It could be called ‘dystopian’ but its themes are so tangible, the characters are so real, that wouldn’t be quite right. The desire to be safe and normal becomes authoritarian; the fear of those who are different becomes discrimination. This future Iceland is hopelessly divided, politically and ideologically, in the name of erasing conflict and dissent. The Mark questions what it means to live in an apartheid built on good intentions – or are they?"

Mariana Enríquez 

"I read Fríða Ísberg’s The Mark in a single gulp, unable to believe what was happening in its pages. In a time where martial savagery is met with increased rhetorical hygienics, where the ubiquity of relentless self-exposure makes the very notion of privacy feel quaint or even suspicious, Ísberg has written a masterpiece of public conscience and consciousness. The Mark moves in propulsive prose, between four main characters so singular and human and fallible, I feel I could pick up my phone right now and call any of them. Ísberg shows the consequences of a society where the data of fear and moral obviousness have cudgeled away our grace—The Mark is one of the most fascinating and ethically nourishing contemporary novels I’ve read in ages."

– Kaveh Akbar

"This searingly brilliant novel is alive to the nuances in the debate. . . subtle, intense prose. . . Fríða Ísberg, like George Orwell and Anthony Burgess before her, lets the dystopian ironies speak for themselves."

Times Literary Supplement

"A future disturbingly close to us... Fríða's idea about the empathy test is absolutely brilliant, the world is incredibly well built and intriguing. The novel provides countless reflections about the society we live in... Fríða Ísberg is a clever author and extremely sure-footed stylistically... She deserves praise for daring to do something new."

Morgunblaðið (Iceland)

"A gripping and unpredictable novel ...  intriguing style ... the imagery entertaining, ambiguous and sleek ... One can 'sink into the story like a hot tub', to quote the text itself." 

Fréttablaðið (Iceland)

"Fríða does not only address existential questions on power and morality with intuition and wisdom but also tackles language and style with great and captivating vigour. Each persona has its own life experience and a stance which surfaces calculated and elaborated in idiom and choice of words. [...] It's been a long time since I've read anything so remarkable. Phenomenal and powerful fiction."

Skald (Iceland)

"Merking is a tortuous book, sometimes simultaneously, sometimes alternating between philosophical, serious, exciting and funny. The characters are not only written by the psychological intuition that also characterized Itch, but they are also unusual and welcome into the rather self-centered world of Icelandic literature [...] a breath of fresh air." (Iceland)

"One thinks of Aldous Huxley throughout this lively, breathless and very contemporary text where political correctness has become the guarantee of the best of all possible worlds"

Le Monde (France)

"With her award-winning debut The Mark now published in German, Frida Ísberg has written a dystopian thesis novel that illuminates the dark side of our omnipresent desire for empathy. (…) In addition to being an allegory of state and digital surveillance in the context of the pandemic, THE MARK also provides a specific critique of the empathic praise of empathy in the age of psychology"

– WELT plus (Germany)

"Ísberg is not interested in concealing truths, but in social tipping points. With her novel, the Icelandic writer touches on many topics that concern us today: polarization, democratic societies, debates about vogueness and cancel culture, or aggression on social media. (…) The marking thus becomes a plea for nuance, for doubts, for asking questions and listening to each other. A novel that tells us more about our present than about the future."

– Deutschlandfunk Kultur (Germany)

"Fríða Ísberg's debut The Mark is a strong novel about fear, hypocrisy and misuse of power, and about who is invited into the community and who is shut out(…) Her portrayals are nothing short of amazing"

Dagens Nyheter (Sweden)

"Frida Ísberg’s novel The Mark is not only a skilfully executed story about a polarized future society. It is first and foremost a very human story about a few individuals trying in different ways to live their lives under conditions that become increasingly absurd. (…)This is a furiously intelligent book that gets the brain working at high speed"

Vi Magazine (Sweden)

"Crackingly good (…) extremely timely, fresh, immersive (…) Ísberg draws up a gloomy and terrifying portrait of a near future"

– Dagbladet (Norway)

"Terrifyingly strong. (…) 31 year old Fríða Ísberg has written a dizzyingly good novel (…) One of the genious features of Ísbergs bok, is how she makes such a strong case for each of her characters, so that we readers fully understand and believe in their thoughts and actions. (…) I have no doubt that her her dystophy will shake readers throughout Europe."

– NRK (Norway)

"Dystopic and elegant (...) Isberg has an original and totally immersive take on what an emerging, totalitarian society may do to fully fleshed-out, utterly believable people. Her description of the riots and protests against an absurd invention that will condemn people to eternal outsider status, is depicted in a startingly fresh and terrifying way. This makes the novel very timely."

– Adresseavisen (Norway)

"The Mark is a polyphonic, thought-provoking book set in Reykjavik. Iceland is in the throes of a referendum in which the Empathy Test may become mandatory. Each resident is tested on their level of empathy or amorality. Four characters are abruptly confronted with the limits of their freedom. A fairly explosive parable about populism, citizenship and prejudice"

De Morgen (Belgium)

Publisher: Forlagið
Territories: Arabic: Manshorat AlAfandi FZE; Australia and New Zealand: Text; Brazil: Fosforo; Denmark: Gyldendal; Faroe Islands: Sprotin; Finland: WSOY; France: Laffont; Germany: Hoffmann und Campe; Hungary: Europa; Italy: La Nave di Teseo; Lithuania: Sofoklis; Netherlands: De Geus; Norway: Aschehoug; Spain: Literatura Random House/PRH; Sweden: Norstedts; Turkey: Domingo Publishing; Ukraine: Old Lion; UK: Faber
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