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Names for the Sea: Strangers in Iceland Paperback – 5 Jul 2012

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Product details

  • Paperback: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Granta Publications Ltd (5 July 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 184708415X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1847084156
  • Product Dimensions: 21.6 x 13.5 x 2.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (22 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 255,333 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


Names for the Sea is Moss's memoir of her family s first year in Iceland, a journey from southern England to the nether reaches of the North Pole, and it is quite a ride. In fact, it s one of the most enjoyable travel books I ve read ... What I was thrilled to read was the mundane oddness ... It s hilarious in its unexpectedness, more like a dispatch from Gulliver than A Year in Provence ... This is a work of humour, for sure, and I loved her puncturing of Icelanders tales of derring-do, the obsession with pride and shame. More than that, it s a work of strange intelligence that jars like poetry. So many passages made me pause, to long to read her two novels ... Moss does eventually return, and Iceland is so odd it instantly starts to feel for her fictional . I feel the same about this book: it has beauty enough to feel fictional --The Times

A fascinating and unusual book, a genuine news from nowhere, the gripping account of one person thinking and perceiving for herself --Literary Review

About the Author

SARAH MOSS was educated at Oxford University and is a senior Lecturer in Literature and Place at the Cornwall Campus of Exeter University. She is the author of two novels; Cold Earth, and Night Waking, which was selected for the Fiction Uncovered Award in 2011, and the co-author of Chocolate: A Global History. She spent 2009-10 as a visiting lecturer at the University of Reykjavik.

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33 of 33 people found the following review helpful By Brian J. Cox on 15 July 2012
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I've probably spent getting on for as much time in Iceland as Sarah Moss and reckon to know it fairly well, but a large number of short casual visits over a period of 25 years is not at all the same thing as living there for almost a year as she and her family did, and their experience makes for fascinating reading. She spent the academic year 2009-10 - just after the Icelandic bank crash - at the University of Iceland in Reykjavík teaching English literature; the crash - or kreppa, as Icelanders call it - meant that her salary diminished markedly in value even before she arrived, and the Mosses were far from well off in an expensive city, but her book is all the better for not being penned by a well-heeled visitor. She is an acute and perceptive observer as we follow her daily routine of getting the children to school and pre-school respectively, making ends meet in a society that doesn't seem to "do" thrift and secondhand goods, and learning what makes her students tick: indeed, she admits she learned as much from them as they did from her. Iceland's summer being short, life in Reykjavik took place mostly against a background of a wet autumn, dark winter - when you start to think of lunch before daylight at 11am - and a long, cold spring when it gets rapidly lighter but rarely any warmer. And you're walking or cycling everywhere in the cold and wet while everyone else is zooming past in SUVs.

We learn that Icelanders don't talk readily to strangers - and they don't, at least not to tourists like myself - not because they are unfriendly but because they have no real cultural experience of meeting anyone they either don't know or don't at least share common friends or acquaintances with.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Alyson on 7 Mar 2014
Format: Paperback
Sarah Moss speaks early on of not wanting to be a "whining ex-pat" - she did not succeed. the focus of the book is not primarily on Iceland, but on the author adjusting to life overseas, her family life, her work life. As such, defining it as a travel book is not entirely accurate. This was bought for me as a gift by my boyfriend as we were visiting Iceland for my 30th birthday, but it wasn't what he or I expected. In the time she is in Iceland, she doesn't really get out much!

To be honest, I admit my opinion was negatively skewed as I found the author to be somewhat pretentious. I read The Guardian, but it’s a certain type who feels the need to make a point of making people know this, and that they own "five different types of paprika". Judgmental? Probably, but Sarah is not innocent of this herself. I found this book incredibly judgemental, with attempts to be self-deprecating by making comments about her ignorance as a ‘foreigner’ actually sounding much more like thinly veiled criticisms of the country she was living in, and its people. Yes she felt 'different' and she tried to make out that she felt this was her fault and down to her ignorance - but it always just sounded as though what she really meant was that the Icelanders were doing things wrong by not doing things how she was used to. The moaning...about the cold, about the lack of fruit and vegetables, about the driving, about the university she was working in, the teaching methods used there, the resources...all of this just sounded snobbish, patronising, and even somewhat xenophobic to me.

The positives were that I did learn something about Icelandic culture, folklore, history...not really much about what to do and see, hence again I argue against this being classed as a travel book!
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By JanW-B on 5 Jan 2013
Format: Paperback
Friends gave me this book knowing I'd visited Iceland. My trip to Iceland, for the landscape and geology, was led by fellow Brits and spent mainly away from the towns staying in a hotel staffed by eastern europeans. We had minimal contact with local people and this book filled the cultural gap, albeit making me feel I had been in a different country.

I found the mixture of domestic detail, academic life, historic, social, economic and cultural insights really fascinating and the writing wry and engaging. It's given me a better understanding of Iceland whilst, ironically, making it feel more foreign than it seemed at the time.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Lady Fancifull TOP 500 REVIEWER on 13 Oct 2014
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Though definitely a person who basks in hotter-the-better sun, I am lured and also terrified by the climates of harsh, cold, isolation.

So Sarah Moss's obsession with, love of Iceland, biographical account of a year spent living and working there, was always going to be an absorbing read. In many ways my interest is as much in `how does a person coming from one culture assimilate into another' as it is in learning about a different culture; that is because the outsider sees things the in-dweller cannot, because it is so much part of their fabric that they can't step outside it.

Moss first went to Iceland when she was 19, over a university summer holiday, with a friend. By the time covered by this book, she is in her thirties, married, with two children, and a university lecturer (and of course a writer) This is post-the collapse of Iceland, and she had a accepted a lecturing commitment for a year at Reykjavik University. By the time she got there, her salary had so far dropped in its buying power as to make living there for the year quite hard.

What she found puzzling is that certainly amongst the middle classes she could not really see much evidence of what `collapse' had done to society, as, in boom, Iceland had moved to be a highly consumerist culture, households with several gas guzzling vehicles, a society of perennial new spend and dumping (not recycling, not sell-or-give-away-as second-hand) of the mildly out-moded but still fully functioning. She discovered this, even, in small children's clothing.
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