Freeland, the imaginary locale of Brad Leithauser’s new novel, is a group of islands situated in the North Atlantic. Its capital, Thorskrist, is “the northernmost capital in the world, and may well be the smallest”— the country’s morose population is around sixty thousand. The people of Freeland survive on fish, and are heavy drinkers yet also prudish, maintaining a set of punitive drinking laws the narrator calls “surreal.”

The novel opens in the wake of a disaster, the discovery of a dead teenager “who was last glimpsed alive at an impromptu party in a parking lot behind one of our discotheques.” There is a growing malaise in the country, and its president, Hannibal Hannibalsson, addresses the scandal of the boy’s death in a rambling oration that seeks to revive a sense of Freeland’s proud past. Standing on a park bench in downtown Thorskrist, near a statue of Erik the...


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