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Names for the Sea: Strangers in Iceland [Paperback]

Sarah Moss
4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (21 customer reviews)
RRP: £14.99
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Book Description

5 July 2012
Novelist Sarah Moss had a childhood dream of moving to Iceland, sustained by a wild summer there when she was nineteen. In 2009, she saw an advertisement for a job at the University of Iceland and applied on a whim, despite having two young children and a comfortable life in an English cathedral city. The resulting adventure was shaped by Iceland's economic collapse, which halved the value of her salary, by the eruption of Eyjafjallajokull and by a collection of new friends, including a poet who saw the only bombs fall on Iceland in 1943, a woman who speaks to elves and a chef who guided Sarah's family around the intricacies of Icelandic cuisine. Sarah was drawn to the strangeness of Icelandic landscape, and explored hillsides of boiling mud, volcanic craters and fissures, and the unsurfaced roads that link remote farms and fishing villages in the far north. She walked the coast path every night after her children were in bed, watching the northern lights and the comings and goings of migratory birds. As the weeks and months went by, the children settled in local schools and Sarah got to know her students and colleagues, she and her family learned new ways to live.

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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: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (21 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 296,874 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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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
30 of 30 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Our neighbours just up there (somewhere) ... 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
3.0 out of 5 stars Depends what you're looking for... 7 Mar 2014
By Alyson
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
5.0 out of 5 stars A different country 5 Jan 2013
By JanW-B
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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13 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant 16 July 2012
By Cathy T
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I became interested in Iceland after the banking crisis of 2008. I had some money trapped in an Icesave account. I started to read the comments of Icelanders posting in English in our newspapers, and was amazed by the "group think" they appeared to demonstrate. In fact, they saw themselves as victims of the UK, because Gordon Brown had used legislation to deem the Icelandic banks to be in default, and to freeze their assets.

Although I was annoyed that Iceland was refusing to honour the guarantee that had permitted their banks to operate in the UK, and to make vast amounts of money from which the Icelanders had all benefited, I became intrigued by their situation. In January 2010 I was able to visit for a few days. Their society and landscape was so different, and so interesting, that I have wanted to go back there, but have not yet managed another trip.

I had not heard of Sarah Moss before, but read a recent review of her book in a newspaper, and bought it from Amazon. I found it entirely gripping. She is examining a tiny society that has developed outside the European mainstream, and the mindset that this has engendered. Before the crash, they seem to have regarded themselves as having the best society in the world, although the wealth was based on an illusion, and the egalitarianism was not quite what it seemed. However, from reading the book, I am left in no doubt that they will quickly recover from the financial cataclysm that struck so suddenly, and will be the better for having gone through it. It has added a necessary dollop of humility.

Sarah Moss sets out an exquisite examination of various facets of Icelandic society, as she found it in 2009/10 while working at an Icelandic university.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting if not thought provoking
Having been to Iceland I found this an interesting insight into Icelandic culture and seeing beyond the tourist goggles. Read more
Published 7 months ago by FletchtheMonkey
4.0 out of 5 stars a British family's year in Iceland
Sarah Moss offered a placing at Iceland's only university to teach English literature, ups and offs there with her small family for a year. Read more
Published 10 months ago by Mr. Robert Marsland
4.0 out of 5 stars Beautifully written book on Iceland
Iceland is one of the youngest islands on the planet, given that it is being created as I write. It is also a land that has few trees, stark landscapes and is populated by a close... Read more
Published 10 months ago by Half Man, Half Book
5.0 out of 5 stars A brilliant read...
Iceland, a country dear to my heart! I'm very happy to say this book effortlessly guided me around the beautiful scenery, history and everyday lives.... Read more
Published 11 months ago by vans998
4.0 out of 5 stars Names for the Sea
Having visited Iceland on more than one occasion, I am thoroughly enjoying this imaginative approach of this good story, but the print is too small in this copy
Published 11 months ago by Mrs M Watkins
5.0 out of 5 stars Shiver me timbers
This is a great read,no if's,no but's.Very entertaining.
Re-title it,"An English Family Survives a Year in Iceland" and watch sales double and triple.
Thank me later.
Published 11 months ago by William Thurgood
5.0 out of 5 stars Interesting, informative and well written
A friend who had visited Iceland lent me this book just prior to setting off on a cruise that would take in three Icelandic ports. Read more
Published 13 months ago by hiljean
4.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating read
I've been to Reykjavik once and will be going again in December and this book was a real eye opener. Read more
Published 13 months ago by jean
4.0 out of 5 stars interesting to read, would be better if there were pictures too
An interesting, fairly densely-written account of a year in Iceland. There's quite a bit of information in there, about various places in Iceland, and different aspects of life,... Read more
Published 18 months ago by Dill
3.0 out of 5 stars Doesn't quite hit the mark.
I read Night Waking before this and I loved it so my expectations were high. But I felt that this lacked focus. Read more
Published 21 months ago by R. Berry
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