Aug 26, 2012

Odd Saga of the American ...

The Odd Saga of the American and a Curious Icelandic Flock, by E E Ryan. Charleston, 2010. 59 pgs.

I love books about Iceland, I love books about Icelanders in the U.S.--and elsewhere--(such as those by Olaf Olafsson), and I love books about foreigners in Iceland (anything by Bill Holm). Sometimes the authors of the "foreigners in Iceland" category haven't been to Iceland (Jules Verne), but E E Ryan has. Only Ryan (pen name) himself knows how closely the action in his novella mirrors his own experiences.

This novel details the adventures of Alex Welch, an American student who finally realizes his dream of spending a semester in Iceland. He will work with researchers, collecting and analyzing blood samples from sheep. Although his semester is cut short, Alex is in Iceland long enough to experience the misunderstandings, confusion, and humorous adventures that one can expect when traveling or living abroad on your own.

The first Icelander Alex meets is Dr. Gustafsson, Chairman of the Department of Biochemistry.  In a country where people are known by their first names, Dr. Gustafsson never shares his, indicating the size of his ego, perhaps.

Alex dines at Dr. Gustafsson's home and meets some of the people he will be working closely with. One is Snorri, the veterinarian who will help him collect blood samples. The author contrasts the personalities of remote Dr. Gustafsson and the enigmatic Snorri by describing the literature that each prefers (Snorri likes the Sagas, while Gustafsson prefers Laxness). Nice touch!

Snorri's proclivity for the Sagas foreshadows the mysterious events that are to cut short Alex's semester. Some of the events border on tragic, yet like the Sagas, humor is used in relating them.

Just like a trip to Iceland, this brief book will leave you wanting more.

Aug 25, 2012

Back to Iceland

No, I don't have a trip planned--only the one in my imagination. But I have missed writing and reading about Iceland this past year. And I have missed the connections with all of you bloggers who have Iceland on the Brain: those I know about and those I have yet to discover.

To sum up this past year: distraction. We finished phase one of our log cabin renovation, and we moved in. We enjoyed a family wedding, as son Gabriel married Rachel, and we hosted a rehearsal dinner here at the Condemnation Plantation. We also hosted an Open Log House, which was a wonderful way to bring closure to a three-year period of obsessing about our house project, and to make the transition from house to home.

With all these events behind us it is time for me to do three things I'm excited about:

  • wish a Happy 24th Birthday to son Peter
  • wish a Happy Birthday to writer Bill Holm
  • review an Icelandic book 

Aug 25, 2011

Happy Birthdays!

This year has been a big one for our family. Milestones birthdays include: 60, the "height" of the twenties, a quarter-century ... you'll notice I'm not naming any names ... and yours truly, who has to count up from a certain year, just to calculate her age.

Well, it is time to say Happy Birthday to youngest son Peter.

Peter's birthday present may well be "Goodnight Irene" evacuation orders from the Outer Banks. Possibly he'll be lucky, and miss the hurricane by the same small margin that we missed the Great East Coast Earthquake.

You see, we were in Minneapolis, the home state of Bill Holm, who shares today's birthday with Peter. This trip had a number of superlatives, including a few Icelandic ones:

I was given a really remarkable gift in Anoka from Professor Batty. It was Halldór Laxness' Salka Valka, in a hard-to-find, English translation. (See Laxness in Translation.) The lesson is, keep searching for that special book, and it will reveal itself to you. Thank you, Professor, for your generous persistence.

The Open Book space, featuring curious and beautiful reclaimed architectural features, where I got to see the offices of Milkweed Editions, publisher of Bill Holm's books, many of which feature Iceland. If you visit the Minneapolis area, be sure to stop by to see the intriguing space and the wonderful examples of book art.

Non-Icelandic highlights of the trip: walking/strolling, eating and fun times with Coco and Family; the best beer tour and tasting ever at Schell Brewery, New Ulm; the stunning collections at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts; the Baby Marx puppet exhibit at the Walker; great, independent coffee shops on every corner; beautiful weather; the Minnesota 150 Exhibit; the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum; and awesome bike paths everywhere that make Minneapolis the #1 bike city in the U.S.!

Three trips to Minneapolis/St. Paul in the past three years=good times!

Jul 15, 2011

Not Iceland. Hogwarts.

John made the ultimate sacrifice, and accompanied me to the opening of Harry Potter 7, Pt. 2, the 12:01 am show. It was a first for me buying tickets online--good thing, as it sold out. I wanted to experience one Harry Potter opening night in my lifetime, and this was my last chance. 

It is surprising to realize that I've only been a fan for 2 1/2 years! But in that time I've read the series twice, listened to it once, and, as of tonight, have seen all the movies.

It was a lovely night in Richmond; unusually cool, with a full moon. My favorite part happened as we were waiting in line, when the girl behind me said, "I feel like my childhood is ending tonight."

Favorite part #2: Despite the best efforts of Danielle-at-work, I was not costumed--but, waiting for John to return from the restroom after the movie, I got to see the costumes, the faces, and hear the comments of legions of other Potter fans. Most of them pretty darn nerdy. I loved them all.

Favorite #3: The man next to me politely turned off his cell phone as the movie started, put it away, and proceeded to fall asleep. After the movie I tapped him on the shoulder ... "did you sleep through the whole movie?" "Yes!" I said to his daughter, "and you let him!"
... John and Stranger Dad: two men who made the ultimate sacrifice.

Next it's my turn, when I have to get up and go to work at 7 am ...

Was this movie "The Best"? Probably not. But it was really quite good. Thank you Harry. Thank you, J.K. Rowling.

Jul 11, 2011

Hekla erupts in Richmond

We have a new family member, a girl kitten who is 4 months old. She's still bitty, but my, her paws are big and her legs are long. Her volcanic-ash grey color prompted us to name her Hekla, since we signed the adoption papers right when the volcano appeared ready to blow.

I have been following news reports of Hekla, and was rather amazed to see one report placing Hekla right in the middle of Heimaey, in the Westman Islands.  Hey, either do your research or get yourself a librarian! The Volcanism Blog wrapped up the issue with a nice blast of humor.

I'm happy to report that our Hekla is a women's soccer fan: she joined John and I for Sunday's World Cup U.S./Brazil game--and what a game it was! Something tells me that on Wednesday at noon I won't be focused on work. I just might have my computer on ESPN 3. Hekla will have to miss the game: she'll be at home tormenting our dogs.

Apr 19, 2011

Celebrate! Laxness in Translation

Our friend and collaborator, the esteemed Professor Batty (aka Stephen Cowdery) has a new project. He has done himself proud. His new website celebrates (good choice of words) the life and work of Icelandic author Halldór Laxness. The revolution is at hand!

Laxness in Translation

Mar 30, 2011

Booksale Love: Direct from Iowa

Ghosts, Witchcraft and the Other World: Icelandic Folktales I. Translated by Alan Boucher. Iceland Review Library, 1977. 91 pgs.

The stories in this book surprised and delighted me by turns. Many of the folktales were reminiscent of the sagas in their understated irony and humor. I was reminded that those of us in the living flesh lead really dull lives, compared to those non-living spirits that surround us daily and nightly--just out of view.

 The Soul of my man Jon is a charming story about the lengths a woman will go to for her man. Specifically, a woman whose man was "ill-natured, little liked by his neighbours, ... lazy and useless about the house ... " But she loved him. When he died she set off for Heaven to have a talk with St. Peter. Next she talked to St. Paul, then the Virgin Mary. She finally resorted to tricking Jesus Christ Himself in order to save Jon's soul.

Rich Farmer, Poor Farmer is a wonderful cautionary tale about misconception and trust. One night a Poor Farmer has a dream that he and his Rich Farmer friend will both die in three days. The two farmers spend their remaining time on earth together, with surprising results.

All in all, a fun read.

I'm sure there are many more Icelandic treasures in Iowa waiting to be found--keep up the good work, Liz!