Apr 12, 2023Liked by Max B. Sawicky

Thanks for the travel monologue, Max. Well written with vivid descriptions. Happy you enjoyed your adventure.

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Apr 13, 2023·edited Apr 13, 2023Liked by Max B. Sawicky

I haven't been to Iceland but I've greatly enjoyed related books, which I will mention here. The Complete Sagas Of Icelanders, Including 49 Tales (5 volumes) has many wonderful narratives, which are effectively short historical novels. They bear a faint resemblance to westerns: primitive legal mechanisms embedded in a farmers' democracy of sorts, with arguments and violence over land boundaries, perceived insults, commercial transactions gone wrong, escalating spectacularly. They have another similarity to other medieval literature I've read: a vast cast of characters. These are the best available translations into English.

There was a selection in one volume from this collection that included some of the best sagas, The Sagas Of Icelanders. It lacks what is commonly considered the greatest, "Njal's Saga." But that translation, by Robert Cook, is available separately.

I was introduced to this literature by a glowing review in the New York Review of Books, https://www.nybooks.com/articles/2001/12/20/golden-notebooks/.

Auden got it: "I love the sagas, but what a rotten society they describe, a society with only the gangster virtues." This is from Letters From Iceland (1937), an entertaining hodge-podge of travelogue, quotations, poetry which he co-wrote with Louis MacNeice.

Iceland also produced a Nobel Laureate, Halldor Laxness, quite a few of whose books have been translated. I first ran onto his best known, Independent People, an outstanding novel.

Finally, if like Auden you love the sagas, and want more of stylistically similar writing: Snorre Sturlason or Snorri Sturluson, thought to be the author of "Egil's Saga" (one of the best), wrote a history of the Norse kings, the Heimskringla. Here the disagreements are more consequential, concerned with who gets to rule, tax, and dispense justice and favors. Iceland is not featured but since it was peopled by Norse exiles and refugees, the culture has similarities. Norway itself is a frequent setting for saga episodes, along with characters who do not make it to Iceland at all.

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