Jon Gnarr, Iceland's most unlikely of mayors

Jon Gnarr, Iceland’s most unlikely of mayors

Book review: Gnarr! How I Became The Mayor Of A Large City In Iceland And Changed The World




By Jon Gnarr

It will come as no surprise to Canadians that a standup comic could become mayor of a city. So it was with Jon Gnarr: in the wake of the financial crisis that devastated Iceland, he became mayor of its largest city and capital, Reykjavik. Had it not been for massive loans from its Scandinavian neighbours and the IMF, a country that had enjoyed one of the highest standards of living in the world before 2008 would have gone bankrupt.

It’s a tale that reads more like fiction than economic history. Gnarr created the Best Party as a joke in 2009. Joining him were other anti-politicians who shared his goal of satirizing Icelandic politics (and by extension politics everywhere). Until then, Gnarr had described himself as an “anarchist.”

Great was the shock when the party was elected in 2010 on a platform of free towels at swimming pools and a “drug-free Parliament by 2020.” He declared he wouldn’t enter into a coalition with anyone who had not watched his favourite TV show, The Wire, and swore he’d break all campaign promises, though he did hold himself to his vow to step down in June 2014.

This slim 177-page volume is a follow-up to an autobiography Gnarr penned about his challenging childhood, called The Indian. He suffered from dyslexia and ADHD yet became one of the most recognized personalities in Iceland (albeit a country with a total population of just more than 325,000).

As you’d expect from a professional entertainer, there are many amusing moments, but several essays are recycled. Included is a 12-page interview with his wife, who informs us “Jon is a genius,” and the book ends abruptly with a short essay first posted on the Best Party’s website in 2010.

Gnarr is a difficult figure to criticize because he’s an expert at pre-empting attacks from detractors. One chapter, “Wu Wei,” describes a Judo technique he uses to deflect political or media criticism: he responds with silence and a “silly grin,” thereby driving his antagonists to distraction.

This book will be an amusing gift for Iceland lovers and political cynics, but casual readers could get the gist with a quick browse at a bookstore. No doubt Gnarr would respond with a silly grin.