Book Reviews

Saga Land

So many of the Viking sagas are tales of revenge, death and violence  you could be forgiven  for thinking that Saga Land , the book written by Richard Fidler and Kári Gíslason might be pretty gruesome;  actually, some of it is!

Yet there is also something of a dreamlike gentle quality to the book. Maybe it is because interspersed with the violent sagas there are reflective passages describing the beautiful Icelandic scenery, maybe it is because the authors are on a quest which dates back centuries, maybe it is their delightful, thoughtful writing styles.

A story of a friendship

Saga Land is also a true story. It is a story of the friendship between two men who both live in Brisbane, Australia who met when Australian broadcaster Richard Fidler interviewed Icelandic writer and academic Kári Gíslason for his popular radio interview programme ‘Conversations with Richard Fidler’.

Gíslason, Icelandic by birth, moved to Australia with his English mother when he was 10 years old. In his entire life he only met his father, who already had a wife and children, four times. But he wanted to discover this family, and also the country of his birth and of the Icelandic sagas that he had studied for his doctorate thesis.

A descendant of Snorri Sturluson?

One day Gíslason happened to say to Fidler that he was going to go back to Iceland to trace his family history and to see if there was any truth in what he had heard – that he was descended from Snorri Sturluson, the most celebrated of medieval Icelandic saga writers.  Fidler decided to go with him, apart from his own interest in that far distant country, it would make good broadcasting material.

And so it was that the two men set off on their respective voyages of discovery, taking it in turns to write chapters for the book.

We start with an Icelandic Timeline

But first of all the book shows a Timeline starting 10million years ago when Iceland was formed by volcanic eruption. It then jumps to the 8th – 9th century when Irish-Scottish monks settled there, and then to 874AD and the arrival of the Vikings. The Timeline includes mentions of death, violence and murder – true events which form the basis of many of the Sagas. 

But, as the authors point out Saga Land contains four different kinds of sagas – family sagas, the sagas of Snorri Sturhuson, other tales gleaned during their travels and also Kári Gílason’s own family saga.

Not just sagas but a travel book too

And linking all the sagas the story of the authors’ travels throughout the remote northern island of Iceland with its dramatic glaciers and mountain ranges, the people they encountered and the evocative places they visited.  The gentle colour illustrations as well as the black and white photography and illustrations all add to the charm of Saga Land. The book is a sheer delight; and has convinced me that I now have to visit Iceland.

Did Kári’s family saga quest have the result that he had hoped for? That is not for us to reveal, but for readers of Saga Land to discover for themselves.

Saga Land. Richard Fidler and Kári Gíslason. ISBN: 978-0-7333-3970-7.

ABC Books imprint of HarperCollins.  Paperback £12.99. eBook also available.

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