Book review “Names for the Sea – Strangers in Iceland”

names for the sea title picture

It has been ages since I wrote my last book review, as well as it has been ages that I have been to a library. Back in the days I used to flock to my home town library almost every weekend, but haven’t done so since I moved to Iceland. I changed both of these facts. Actually, it was part of my New Year’s resolutions. After all I live in a country with one of the highest per capita author rate (2015 there have been almost 1,500 titles published, in a small nation of only little over 300,000 inhabitants) and still one of the highest book consumption rate in the world. I mean, hey, Reykjavík is a UNESCO City of Literature after all! I am a proud owner of a library membership now and I felt instantly revived when I wandered through the silent, of book smelling corridors of the Reykjavík town library. I felt like a fish in a sea full of names.

Besides that I am having a bet with my fiancé, since our home is small, but full of books. This is amongst other things thanks to my sister-in-law which handed me a lot of books she found abandoned at her workplace in a hotel the other day. I promised him at the end of the year these books will all be read and gone off to book-swap-tables. Typical Icelandic reading season is the long winter, but since the days start to stretch again before midsummer sun fully arrives, I need to speed up now!

So, you see my year 2019 started completely under the star of books.


One of these books I was reading is the non-fiction book of English writer and academic Sarah Moss called “Names for the Sea – Strangers in Iceland”. It came to my attention while I was browsing through the gorgeous blog of “The Blank Garden” from Juliana – check her blog out here. First I almost didn’t buy the book, because I thought to myself “There will be hardly anything new to discover in this book, because she has been through the same experience as you being an expat in Iceland”. But at the end, I was happy I bought and read it, because it wasn’t for her actual daily experiences, but the life lessons she connected to it, that made this book worth reading. In fact it sometimes opened my eyes to situations I encounter on a daily basis, but ceased to recognise them.

Names for the Sea book review

It was absolutely eye-opening for me to read her wisdom. This book was more valuable for me for its perspective of life in general than it was about its insight about life in Iceland in particular. Yet it was very soothing to read that not only it is me who struggles to adjust my European soul and style of living to this rugged island customs. Funny enough I took Business Communication English lessions while I was reading her book and my teacher is foreigner grown up in Great Britain as well and she described similar experiences as Moss. Moss was writing her book in the wake of the big Icelandic financial collaps (“kreppa”) of 2008. Things seem to be a little more rough than they are now, but still today things are not extremely more different, which was kind of odd for me to discover.

“You can’t live in Iceland without discovering the limits of human power”

More than once I paused reading quotes like these and was in awe about the depth about her statements, which she so casually drops in subordinate clauses as if it is nothing of importance, really.

“I like the way it’s impossible to ignore the passing of time. Today is darker than yesterday, tomorrow will be darker than today” – S. Moss describing the fade-out of daylight after midnight sun.

She managed to put into words what I was feeling all the time, but failed to really realize or at least verbalize about how it feels to live in Iceland. It make me stop for a moment and think about something which usually drowns in daily routine. Her sentences sometimes reveal something so monumental it is sheer beauty to read this truth put so simple yet so beautiful.

“… feeling the earth tilt back towards the sun, back towards life”

In some way this book was comforting me during a time of a year, when I usually experience a rush of doubt or a little melt-down of why I am living on this island in the middle of the atlantic. But then again, this place is so special, so pure, so close to nature and therefore life in its core meaning. Moss opened my eyes anew to this gift I have gotten and phrased it so graciously.


General book information

Author: Sarah Moss
Title: Names for the Sea – Strangers in Iceland
Sites: 358
ISBN: 978-1-84708-416-3
Publisher: Granta Books

1 comment

Leave a Reply to Lydia Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.