“A man without a book is blind.” – Icelandic proverb
Another November come and gone! The books I am sharing with you this month are set in two of my favorite countries, Iceland and India. Both novels gave me new insight into these wonderful places and a better idea of what it would be like to live there. Names for the Sea is a modern day memoir while A Passage To India is a fictional classic. If you have any interest for either Iceland or India then I recommend giving these books a read!
Names for the Sea: Strangers in Iceland, Sarah Moss – Wow, did I ever love this book! It is a memoir written by British literature professor Sarah Moss. She decided to apply to the University of Reykjavík in 2009 and, upon receiving the job, moved to Reykjavík with her husband and two sons during the height of Iceland’s financial crisis. The memoir details her and her family’s adventures during the year they spent living in Iceland. I found it very interesting to read about Icelandic culture from the eyes of a foreigner and the difficulties Moss had with assimilating to their temporary home. Since I visited the country a mere three years later, I was able to compare quite a few of Moss’ experiences with my own, one of the more obvious memories being the extremely high prices and meager selection found in grocery stores. To be honest, at times I found Moss’ hesitations and fears a little irritating. She frequently complained about the terrible, suicidal driving in Iceland, but I really did not find that to be the case at all when I visited! On the other hand, I found her descriptions of the people she met while there to be vivid and entertaining, and I very much enjoyed reading about Icelandic traditions, one of which, the arrival of the Icelandic Yule Lads (Jólasveinar), is a favorite my family still celebrates today. Overall, I loved to read about Moss’ experiences and felt that I gained a better understanding of Iceland, its history, and its people.
A Passage To India, E.M. Forster – This novel was published in 1924 and was included on Time Magazine‘s “All Time 100 Novels” list. A Passage To India is set during the British Raj and does a beautiful job of highlighting the tensions between colonized India and the British. The story centers on a young Englishwoman named Adela Quested who travels to India with the intention of marrying a British magistrate in the fictional city of Chandrapore. At first, she is disdainful of the British community in Chandrapore for limiting themselves to their own cultural institutions and not bothering to make any effort to get to know the “real India.” She longs to see more of the country, and when she meets a young Indian doctor by the name of Aziz, she immediately accepts when he offers to take her and her companion Mrs. Moore on a visit to the Marabar Caves. However, what was meant to be a fun day trip turns dreadfully wrong. Adela becomes confused and frightened while exploring one of the caves and accuses Dr. Aziz of attempting to assault her. The British rally around Adela and arrest Dr. Aziz, who finds himself in the midst of a scandal that brings to light the division between the British and their subjects. The rest of the novel revolves around the lead up to Dr. Aziz’s trial, the trial itself, and its aftermath. I found A Passage To India to be a fairly quick read and I enjoyed learning more about the British Raj. I thought the book provided a solid account of the racial prejudices that were present during this time period and raised interesting questions in regards to whether it is possible for friendship and trust to ever exist between the colonizer and the colonized.
Happy reading! 🙂