Saga Land - a review
Saga Land was a Christmas present to myself. For some time, I have enjoyed listening to Richard Fidler's Conversations program on ABC radio. I remember listening to his interview with Kari Gislason and thinking that Kari's story was pretty amazing. I also remember thinking that Australia was a long way for a Icelander to finally settle down! At the time, I was also dipping in and out of Fidler's book, Ghost Empire, the story of his travels through Turkey.
So when I saw Saga Land at my local bookshop, I knew I had to have it. I liked Fidler's writing style, I knew something of Gislason's story and I was in love with Scandinavian history and mythology. Aside, from that, I loved the cover of of the book, and I am sorry to say, but I am a sucker for a good book cover!
Much like Ghost Empire, I have dipped in and out of Saga Land since the new year. Luckily, the book is perfect for a reader like me. Fidler and Gislason weave their own stories around a telling of various Icelandic sagas. Once you have had your fill of a saga, or you need to digest the rather violent ending of that particular story, you can put the book down and pick it up some days later to read about Kari's personal journey of discovery or Richard's experiences in a far-flung corner of the planet (far-flung indeed for Australians!)
Both men do a stellar job of describing the Icelandic environment. Fidler has an eye for the awesome natural environment, while Gislason delves into his memory of places and how these places shaped the person he has become, despite being so far from Iceland for many years of his adult life. Thus, the reader is drawn into the magnificence of the Icelandic environment but also gets a feel for the power of the place on the development of the human soul. Gislason's heartfelt description here says it all:
"I was a boy when I left here, but when I came back in my early twenties I was shocked by how comfortable I felt. Straight away there was this, this physical feeling of... of rightness. Like I could fit right into the landscape. I could fit right into the light.
And then there are the sagas themselves!
Traditionally, the sagas are prose narratives that are based on events that occurred in and around Iceland in the beginning of the Ist Millennium CE. They are predominantly about the struggles and issues associated with the families of the age and, as such, make for some tremendous reading. One particular saga, The Saga of Gisli, is as relevant today is it was then. It tells of the complicated and drawn out events of a failed friendship, murder, revenge, bounty hunters and girl-power. As I read it, I thought it would make an excellent mini-series adapted to the modern-era. But I also imagined listening to the story while sitting around a fire and watching the intrigued faces of my fellow Icelanders. How was the story going to end? Would Gisli escape again? While his escapes were numerous and genius, it is the character of Aud I most enjoyed:
Aud began to count the silver, placing each coin into a large purse. While she was counting, she asked if she could do whatever she wanted with it.
'Of course,' he said. 'It's yours.'
So she stood up and swung the purse into his face, smashing him on the nose. 'Now,' she said, 'you can tell everyone the fine story of when you were hit by a woman.'
I am just over half way through the book. Where I live, it is now cold enough to light the fire.... a perfect atmosphere for further readings of Saga Land.