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Customer Review

11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Depends what you're looking for..., 7 Mar. 2014
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This review is from: Names for the Sea: Strangers in Iceland (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!

The humour others have spoken of was present and did make me smile in places. However, for me, her moaning far outweighed this. My favourite chapters by far were towards the end - particularly when she had moved back to the UK, and visited Iceland for a holiday. Not only was the writing beautiful, and the detail about the places she was visiting what I was hoping for, but she also seemed warmer, more relaxed, less...moany.

Despite my three stars, I would still recommend this book overall!
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Showing 1-1 of 1 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 22 Oct 2015 20:51:24 BDT
P. Kaye says:
I disagree that she is pretentious, snobbish or xenophobic. I read your review before buying the book and have been looking for what you accuse her of, and not found it. The author is probably too much of an intellectual for me (though I probably am one myself), but I think she comes across as more self-deprecating than snobbish. I think she presents a fair balance in contrasting what is better about Britain and what is better about Iceland. She is not afraid to take the mickey out of herself for being scared in a very different and forbidding country. And I don't think she whines, as you allege: she comes across as being careful to try to understand the new culture she finds herself in. You say she doesn't get out much. Well, (a) she does and (b) she gives us useful insights in describing why both she and the locals find it hard to go out in such a cold environment. She is not telling us about the five types of paprika to show off, but simply to illustrate that local produce is so difficult to grow and importing exotic foods is so expensive that she soon realised she would have to forgo luxuries she had taken for granted in the UK. You say she was being critical of Icelanders in her writing of being a "foreigner", but I thought she articulated very well her perception that Icelanders are so remote that everywhere else on the planet is "them" (the foreigners) and Icelanders desperately want to create a sense of "us", even to the extent of overstating their uniqueness, especially via their rather selective interpretation of their own history. I think you and I read different books! I have been fascinated by Iceland for many years and always wanted to visit but never have. Though this might be a strange compliment to the author, she has succeeded in changing my mind: I now have no wish to go, as she describes, in a way that I have no reason to doubt, a quite unattractive culture, geography and climate!
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