Names for the Sea: Strangers in Iceland

Names for the Sea: Strangers in Iceland

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by Sarah Moss
     
 

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Sarah Moss had a childhood dream of moving to Iceland, sustained by a wild summer there when she was nineteen. In 2009, she saw an advertisement for a job at the University of Iceland and applied on a whim, despite having two young children and a comfortable life in Kent. The resulting adventure was shaped by Iceland’s economic collapse, which halved the

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Overview

Sarah Moss had a childhood dream of moving to Iceland, sustained by a wild summer there when she was nineteen. In 2009, she saw an advertisement for a job at the University of Iceland and applied on a whim, despite having two young children and a comfortable life in Kent. The resulting adventure was shaped by Iceland’s economic collapse, which halved the value of her salary, by the eruption of Eyjafjallajokull and by a collection of new friends, including a poet who saw the only bombs fall on Iceland in 1943, a woman who speaks to elves and a chef who guided Sarah’s family around the intricacies of Icelandic cuisine.

Moss explored hillsides of boiling mud and volcanic craters and learned to drive like an Icelander on the unsurfaced roads that link remote farms and fishing villages in the far north. She watched the northern lights and the comings and goings of migratory birds, and as the weeks and months went by, she and her family learned new ways to live.

Names for the Sea is her compelling, beautiful and very funny account of living in a country poised on the edge of Europe, where modernization clashes with living folklore.

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Editorial Reviews

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Praise for Names for the Sea

"An infectious memoir from someone engagingly candid about her temporary homeland's limitations—and her own." —Kirkus

"Moss . . . captures the fierce beauty of the Arctic landscape, the hardships of establishing family life as foreigners on a local salary in a nation suffering an economic collapse, and most interestingly, the paradoxes of the national character." —Booklist

Library Journal
British novelist Moss (Cold Earth) has crafted a beautifully written account of her time living and teaching in Iceland, an insular nation perched on the outermost edge of Europe. She expertly captures the essence of the landscapes, especially in her descriptions of the strange emptiness that pervades the settled areas, as though people live there but no one is home. Her confessional and poetic writing style accurately conveys the discomfort of trying to fit into a society that seems as though it should be familiar but is unlike anything else the author has known. Moss does an excellent job of verbalizing the outsider experience of the nonnative: embarrassed about making Icelanders speak English to her and too shy to speak Icelandic to them, she tells of avoiding basic activities like shopping so she won't have to talk to anyone. Her conversations with various individuals nevertheless give readers a vivid portrait of Icelandic thinking and social culture. VERDICT An extremely insightful, accessible piece of travel writing on Iceland, this book will broadly appeal to all types of readers.—Carolyn Schwartz, Westfield State Coll. Lib., MA
Kirkus Reviews
The story of a British academic who, intending to fulfill her childhood dream of northern living, took a university job in Reykjavik. Moss (Creative Writing/Warwick Univ.) arrived in 2009, 16 years after the summer visit that was her only actual previous contact with Iceland. Finding herself living in the country she had fantasized about for so long--and with two small children in tow--wasn't traumatic, exactly, but it was obvious to both the author and everyone around her that she was a stranger in her new country. She determined to bike in a land where SUVs are the preferred mode of transportation and the weather is hostile more often than not. Unable to speak Icelandic and unwilling to speak English, she was so clearly on the outside looking in that it would have been foolish to pretend otherwise. Still, her memoir never veers into the maudlin, a refreshing perspective from someone who was so obviously out of her element. Though Moss and her family didn't make it to many tourist attractions (extreme cold not being ideal for toddlers), this actually makes the book better. By shielding her family from the winter and long drives in terrifying traffic, the author managed to lead what seems in her recounting to be an extremely Icelandic life. She achieved an understanding of the land and people, revealed here in subtle "aha" moments that readers will enjoy. She realized, for example, that Iceland's financial crisis, at its height during the year of her residency, was especially traumatic for a society that considered itself truly egalitarian. Much of what Moss learned, or learned to accept, is summed up when she writes, "The stories told by numbers and research are quite different from the stories we tell ourselves and each other. This is not to say that either is wrong." An infectious memoir from someone engagingly candid about her temporary homeland's limitations--and her own.

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781619021228
Publisher:
Counterpoint Press
Publication date:
05/14/2013
Pages:
368
Sales rank:
717,535
Product dimensions:
5.60(w) x 8.20(h) x 1.20(d)

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