Title: Saga Land
Authors: Richard Fidler
I loved Richard Fidler’s earlier book, Ghost Empire, about his journey to Constantinople with his son, which entwined travel-writing with history and legend in a very personable and beguiling way. I’ve also been interested in Iceland and its astonishing sagas for quite some time. So I was keen to read Saga Land from the second I heard about it.
Subtitled ‘The Island Of Stories at the Edge of the World’, Saga Land is the story of how ABC broadcaster Richard Fidler became friends with one of his guests, the author and academic Kári Gíslason.
After Kari’s interview on Richard’s show ‘Conversations’, the two stood chatting by the lift for more than an hour. They shared a deep interest in the sagas of Iceland – ‘true tales … of blood feuds … dangerous women, and people who are compelled to kill the ones they love the most,’ as the blurb describes these ancient and eerie stories.
Eventually, Richard and Kári travelled together to Iceland to explore the landscape and history and folklore of this bare fierce country. Kári was born in Iceland, but did not know his father or his father’s other family until he was an adult. So, for him, the journey is a homecoming and a chance to explore his ancestral roots. For Richard, it’s an adventure and a discovery.
Like Ghost Empire, the book weaves together memoir, travelogue, history and mythology, which is one of my favourite types of books to read. The memoir and travelogue sections of the book feel real and warm and intimate. The recountings of the ancient sagas are fresh and clear and simple, bringing them back to powerful and immediate life. The history of Iceland is bloody and fascinating. I also really loved the photographs in the book.
Usually I read non-fiction in small bites, squeezed in between my reading of novels. I read Saga Land in one big gulp. It was utterly mesmerising.