An eye-opening history of a region and culture “vibrant with people, noise, chance, life.”
In this valuable study—not merely a recounting of the stereotypes regarding Vikings and their rampaging ways—award-winning writer and translator Ferguson (Kierkegaard: Great Thinkers on Modern Life, 2015, etc.) searches for the deepest soul of Scandinavia, traversing three countries (Norway, Sweden, and Denmark) once united under a single monarch. The author also includes Iceland, a former territory of Denmark, then Norway, and home of the purest form of their shared ancient language, Old Norse. Much of this lucid book unfolds like a series of short stories, tales told Ferguson by friends, literary connections, and even strangers. In 1969, at age 20, the British author took off on a lark to Sweden and Denmark, and, despite some misadventures, his love for Scandinavia was born. He moved to Norway in 1983 and has lived there ever since. Playing tour guide for his wife, Ferguson exuberantly relates his explorations. Searching deeper proves difficult, as many of the histories of Scandinavia were written by her enemies. The Vikings were in everyone’s history books, of course, and while the classic portrayal of the Norsemen reflected a bellicose nature, the author rejects that view. The Vikings had great respect for the rule of law and strong rites to which they adhered faithfully. What Ferguson is really searching for is the essence of their psyche and how the idea of the melancholy, brooding man replaced the specter of the bloodthirsty conqueror. Different theories cross his path, such as the vast loneliness of the landscape; however, at the same time, that loneliness has produced so many geniuses in a variety of fields. Ferguson also astutely examines the idea that history isn’t always what you think it was; it depends on the recorder, and the past can change its shape.
A delightful history in which the author truly captures “the soul of the North.”