Third book in my 20 Books of Summer and although I’m currently still reading Book 4, I have gone off-piste a little with some novels in between. We’re only half-way through the month, though, so what can go wrong? I think my friend Cari recommended this one to me, however that would have been almost two years ago so who really knows. It was right up my street, anyway – travel in the footsteps of a previous traveller, in Iceland and Greenland …

Nancy Marie Brown – “The Far Traveler: Voyages of a Viking Woman”

(01 October 2018)

Ostensibly a biography of Gudrid, a Viking woman who made several voyages to Greenland and America from Iceland and gave birth to the first European born on American soil, as well as going on pilgrimage to Rome, because of the lack of clear evidence from the sagas or archaeology (although they have found and Brown works in some of her possible houses), it covers general issues around exploration, the origin of the Icelandic and Greenlandic settlers, the coming of Christianity, etc. It also brings in other sagas than the Vinland ones, carefully explaining how they all fit together.

The book opens memorably with the author standing on the threshold of Gudrid’s house, looking at a view she could have looked at, but is honest about the debate over the historical accuracy of the sagas, as well as the shifting attitudes to them and their locations by Icelandic archaeologists. I loved her assessment of events in the sagas that happened contemporaneously (for example, Gudrid would have known Gudrun the Fair from Laxdaela Saga), and also her use of several historical documents or travelogues from different centuries about the same place in Iceland or Greenland. She certainly knows her sources. I also enjoyed the details from the scientists and experts on weaving etc. (although some diagrams on how looms worked might have been useful), adding in what would have been found of these looms in the archaeological record.

There’s a great annotated bibliography which would be a brilliant guide to the topics covered, although a bit out of date now as this book was published in 2007.

The book is summed up almost at the end:

Digging that summer at Glaumbaer, I didn’t find anything Gudrid had dropped. But as I explored the archaeology of Gudrid’s days, the economy of the farms where she lived, the technology of her time – how to make cheese, how to weave, how to sail a ship and build a wall – I learned new ways to tell Gudrid’s story, to pick up where the sagas leave off. (p. 265)

This was Book 3 in my #20BooksOfSummer project.


I’m currently reading “Rising Ground” but haven’t really read long enough chunks to get a proper feel for it – it is excellent, though, as far as I can tell. One light Cornwall novel done and I’m going to go for Brit Bennett’s “The Vanishing Half” before continuing with the 20Books.

How are your 20Books or other projects going?