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BOOK REVIEW: Saga Land by Richard Fidler & Kári Gíslason

Monday, April 23, 2018

 

The Blurb (From Goodreads):

A gripping blend of family mystery, contemporary stories and the beautiful and bloody Viking tales, set against the starkly stunning landscape of Iceland. Broadcaster Richard Fidler and author Kari Gíslason are good friends. They share a deep attachment to the sagas of Iceland - the true stories of the first Viking families who settled on that remote island in the Middle Ages.These are tales of blood feuds, of dangerous women, and people who are compelled to kill the ones they love the most. The sagas are among the greatest stories ever written, but the identity of their authors is largely unknown. Together, Richard and Kari travel across Iceland, to the places where the sagas unfolded a thousand years ago. They cross fields, streams and fjords to immerse themselves in the folklore of this fiercely beautiful island. And there is another mission: to resolve a longstanding family mystery: a gift from Kari's Icelandic father that might connect him to the greatest of the saga authors.


My Thoughts:


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. And I’ve 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 his 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. And the history of Iceland is bloody and fascinating. I also really loved the photographs included 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.

You can read my review of Ghost Empire here.
And you can listen to Richard Fidler's most recent intereview with me here.

Please leave a comment and let me know what you think.

BOOK REVIEW: Ghost Empire by Richard Fidler

Sunday, June 04, 2017

BLURB:

In 2014, Richard Fidler and his son Joe made a journey to Istanbul. Fired by Richard's passion for the rich history of the dazzling Byzantine Empire - centred around the legendary Constantinople - we are swept into some of the most extraordinary tales in history. The clash of civilizations, the fall of empires, the rise of Christianity, revenge, lust, murder. Turbulent stories from the past are brought vividly to life at the same time as a father navigates the unfolding changes in his relationship with his son.

GHOST EMPIRE is a revelation: a beautifully written ode to a lost civilization, and a warmly observed father-son adventure far from home.

MY THOUGHTS:

I love listening to Richard Fidler on the radio. He is always so warm and funny and curious about people, and he has a knack for drawing out the personal and the unique in every story. I have also been increasingly interested in Constantinople (now known as Istanbul), having read several novels set there in recent years. After hearing Richard speak about his book at the Brisbane Writers Festival last year, I bought a copy and finally read it last month. Normally I read non-fiction slowly over a few weeks, reading several novels in between chapters. But Ghost Empire was so engaging and readable, I whizzed through it in just a few nights.

The book combines the personal memoir of a journey Richard and his son Joe made to Istanbul in 2014, with stories from the city’s long and bloody history. Constantinople was built on the foundations of Byzantium in the early 4th century and became the new capital of the Roman empire in 330 AD. From the mid-5th to the mid-13th century, it was the largest, richest and most powerful city in the world, and the guardian of the most sacred relics of Christianity, the Crown of Thorns and the True Cross. 

For almost a thousand years the city was the centre of extraordinary true tales of greed, murder, violence and betrayals, and Richard entwines these stories with anecdotes from his own life and his life-changing journey with his son. The result is utterly fascinating. 


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