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Saga Land Kindle Edition
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- ASIN : B0722MZNGF
- Publisher : ABC Books (November 1, 2017)
- Publication date : November 1, 2017
- Language : English
- File size : 10562 KB
- Text-to-Speech : Enabled
- Screen Reader : Supported
- Enhanced typesetting : Enabled
- X-Ray : Not Enabled
- Word Wise : Enabled
- Print length : 480 pages
- Lending : Not Enabled
- Best Sellers Rank: #712,740 in Kindle Store (See Top 100 in Kindle Store)
- Customer Reviews:
Top reviews from the United States
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Australians Richard Fidler and Kari Gislason (both residents of my home city of Brisbane) extend this genre with a wonderful exploration of Icelandic stories and modern civilisation. Kari is a self-effacing academic with a PhD in early Icelandic literature and several books under his belt. Richard is one of those renaissance characters with a strong band of followers for his comedy and human interest Conversations and a recent history of Constantinople. They first met when Richard interviewed Kari for his much-loved radio show and became firm friends. With two such roving minstrels, the stage was set for a multi-media investigation of the past and present of a country that sometimes emerges from the mists to find itself in the middle of world attention (think chess gladiators, Starwars negotiators, financial crises, volcanic interruptions…or underdog footballers!)
Sagas (often stories written down over 200 years after the original events) were dearly loved for their emotional and moral characteristics and are usually associated with the Nordic countries, especially the new-born Icelandic civilisation of the tenth to twelfth centuries. In this golden age of Iceland saga-writing, the country was an independent democracy with an informal legal system relying on moral obligation, fair revenge and the peaceful settlement of disputes if possible. It was heavily skewed to the male lineages but with a tradition of strong women who were often left to fend for themselves when sea-faring, farming or marauding partners were away.
Medieval Icelanders felt strong affinity for exotic and distant places but it was mainly men that journeyed back to the Norwegian and Danish homelands (for interaction with the ruling classes and education, perhaps taking along a polar bear for gifts!) or stayed in the court of the Pope in Rome or Byzantium. In the warm period prior to the Little Ice Age, settlement of Icelanders in Greenland was encouraged and there was considerable exploration of the north-east coast of Northern America (including contact with several indigenous groups). These journeys are excitingly told in this book by reference to the saga accounts. The original stories were written in Norse, often on vellum made from calf skin. Even though important early manuscripts were sent to Scandinavia as tributes in later years, many were copied there and kept intact; they found their way back to Iceland in more recent times.
“Saga Land” is not an anthology of Icelandic sagas like other recent compendia. Indeed, most of the sagas discussed and the regions visited are in the western half of the Icelandic coastal strip. To me, this book gives an easier pathway to the main stories and one illuminated by a rich context and a modern introduction to rural Iceland. The stories are beautifully and succinctly told with Kari as a personal guide who knows well the native way of thinking. In alternate chapters, Richard mainly confines himself to the sagas and life of Snorri Sturluson, together with some modern events that reflect the social fabric. Kari sets his favourite, family sagas in the context of a partial upbringing in Iceland and the search for personal connections to the major storyteller of the 12th century. Kari’s quest provides many emotional moments and an introduction to the rich vein of Icelandic genealogy. This interweaving of two voices makes for a very easy reading of the 450-page book and is the basis for several national radio broadcasts.
The result is warmly stunning and the book deserves reading even if you have no perceived interest in Viking history. For both modern fans of Thor-type stories and the dedicated devotees of Icelandic oral and written literature and history, a delight is in store; the sagas are told with freshness and modernity and retain that ethereal strangeness that is Iceland. Richard and Kari’s book and writing styles are layback but thorough and the sagas as told by them quickly become addictive and immersive; the pages fly by.
I admit to more than a parochial bias; I always enjoy the richness of Richard’s radio interviews. Kari’s first book on Iceland intrigued me and made my partner and I include Iceland and East Greenland on our photographic journeys during 2011-2014 to some remote but rapidly changing parts of the world. In September 2012 after the Greenland ice-sheet had undergone such a spectacular summer melting season, we arrived to a deserted Reykjavik in unseasonably cold weather. Airports were closed countrywide due to high winds, driving was dangerous and the world seemed transformed. Our scientific bent was warped by the first night in the capital staying in a deserted but recently-built hotel where sacred boulders had been supposedly retained in the reception area so as not to upset the local fairy population! In the country we found forests of coloured mushrooms and lagoons of icebergs; the inclement weather made us seek respite in a dilapidated turf house. We were alone to see famous waterfalls being decapitated by the gales, with spray heading upwards and sporting spectacular double rainbows. We understood Icelandic people being strongly individualistic yet very much shaped by their special situation. And perhaps the long, cold nights confined to sustainable (underground and with the animals?) housing gave rise to a national preoccupation with storytelling, sometimes being fuelled by particularly vivid imaginations?
The “Saga Land” commences with a map of the authors’ journeys, a brief timeline of Icelandic history and a comprehensive list of the main characters of the Saga period. With the strangeness of Nordic names, I referred to these many times, each time grinning at the self-imposed by-lines of the authors. The first pages make the case for studying the four main types of Icelandic sagas and include the high praise heaped on such by luminaries Jorge Luis Borges and WH Auden. The endnotes and bibliography are very useful and the bookends of their photographs try to set the scene. I hope there is a TV series as I found the images too small, of poor colour rendition and not broad enough in scope to convey a strong feeling of this spectacular landscape. The illustrations throughout the text are quite beautiful and apt.
I wish there was more on the connections of their birthplaces of Iceland and Australia, perhaps via the landscape, extreme climate and rich oral histories and traditions ... and perhaps an occasional chapter written by both authors.
Niggles aside, this book has made me long to return to Iceland/Greenland and know more of the Viking people and their influences. And perhaps we should return in winter with its four hours of daylight, marvellous vistas of the Northern Lights and warm fires and long conversations. Did you realise that weather and climate histories are now being made as the tropical waters of the Gulf Stream increasingly invade the Arctic currents in the vicinity of Iceland; and that there is more evidence of the interactions of volcanic activities with extreme weather! Maybe we need to start writing these things down for future saga readers …..
I absolutely loved it. The authors take you one a journey with them through Icelandic sagas and personal family tales. It's well written and you find yourself picturing the Icelandic coutryside in your mind as you read.
Top reviews from other countries
As the authors travel across Iceland's unyielding landscape they work to unravel Kari's Icelandic heritage. Why did he remain a 'secret' from his Icelandic family for so many years? Is he really a direct descendant of Snorri Sturluson? What is it about this mysterious place that continues to lure him back?
From Jules Verne's Journey to the Centre of the Earth to Bobby Fischer's chess, from Viking explorers to Reagan and Gorbachev's historic meeting in a haunted house in Reykjavík - it's an incredible mix of characters and that's not even counting the retelling of the sagas themselves.
A wonderful adventure.