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Strangers in Iceland

by Sarah Moss

Pub Date: May 14th, 2013
ISBN: 978-1-61902-122-8
Publisher: Counterpoint

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.