Red Ribbon Winner, The Wishing Shelf Book Awards 2020.
This vivacious personal story captures the heart and soul of modern Iceland. Born in Reykjavik on the eve of the Second World War, Sverrir Sigurdsson watched Allied troops invade his country and turn it into a bulwark against Hitler’s advance toward North America. The country’s post-war transformation from an obscure, dirt-poor nation to a prosperous one became every Icelander’s success. Spurred by this favorable wind, Sverrir answered the call of his Viking forefathers, setting off on a voyage that took him around the world. Join him on his roaring adventures!
I was sent a digital copy of Viking Voyager by the author in exchange for an honest review. Thank you Sverrir!
Viking Voyager is a memoir chronicling the life and travels of its author, Sverrir Sigurdsson.
The first half of the book details the author’s childhood in Iceland and the historical and political events taking place in the country during that period.
As a child the author lived in the capital city of Reykjavik. His mother and her compatriots kept certain traditions alive, such as Solarkaffi which was an annual celebration in the North of Iceland of the return of daylight – certain parts of northern Iceland get no daylight hours during winter. This is not the case in Reykjavik, but the annual celebration was kept alive nonetheless. We also learn of pranks undertaken at school and friendships made, and it becomes clear that Sigurdsson is still very fond of his roots.
The story then moves to Finland, in 1958, where the author went to university at the age of nineteen, to study to become an architect. We learn about his struggles with the language and his experiences as a student apprentice in a couple of different architecture firms.
The author intended to gain his architecture degree and travel a little and then return home to Iceland to help improve his beloved country’s infrastructure, but instead he kept going, gaining a wife and child before finishing his studies and following a career path that lead him to the Middle East, then onto Africa, with UNESCO and the World Bank, then to Asia, and finished with him settling down in the United States.
He is now retired, and still lives in the USA, returning to his native Iceland every other year, during which trips he pays respects to the towns his mother and father originated from. I visited Iceland a couple of decades ago and fell in love with the country. It is easy for me to see why Sverrir Sigurdsson would want to return every couple of years to such a unique, magical place.
I loved the plentiful photos and maps the author included throughout this memoir, they really helped to bring the locations and people described to life. He has done plenty of research about his homeland and his other destinations and delivers historical and political information and anecdotes about traditions with lots of interesting detail and with depth and charm.
There is also a very useful guide to the pronunciation of the Icelandic words used throughout the first half of the book included at the back of the book.
I would recommend this book to fans of memoirs and travel who like to get their teeth into the politics and history of a destination, rather than just visit its tourism sights, or to anyone intrigued by Iceland and looking to learn a little more about the country’s history and traditions. The author is a highly intelligent man and his memoir is educational, entertaining and captivating.
About the Author
Sverrir Sigurdsson grew up in Iceland and graduated as an architect from Finland in 1966. He pursued an international career that took him to many parts of the world. His assignments focused on school construction and improving education in developing countries. He has worked for private companies, as well as UNESCO and the World Bank. He is now retired and lives in Northern Virginia with his wife and coauthor, Veronica Li.
His book Viking Voyager: An Icelandic Memoir is a personal story of growing up in Iceland during turbulent times. His upbringing inspired him to travel the world like his Viking forefathers.
Veronica Li emigrated to the U.S. from Hong Kong as a teenager. She received her Bachelor of Arts in English from the University of California, Berkeley, and her master’s degree in International Affairs from Johns Hopkins University. She has worked as a journalist and for the World Bank, and is currently a writer. Her three previously published titles are: Nightfall in Mogadishu, Journey across the Four Seas: A Chinese Woman’s Search for Home and Confuscius Says: A Novel.