This is story is excellent as an introduction to the Icelandic sagas as a whole. It includes the expected Viking raids, battles, feuds and brawls. HowThis is story is excellent as an introduction to the Icelandic sagas as a whole. It includes the expected Viking raids, battles, feuds and brawls. However, as the protagonist is widely regarded as foremost among the skaldic poets, there is an added dimension that transcends the mindless violence and bloodshed that many readers would expect to find. Egill is a complex man- at times savage in his ability to end lives, and at other times surprisingly sentimental and sensitive (as in his poems eulogizing his sons and family.) The saga also displays the importance of law in Viking Age Iceland: the saga takes the reader through the procedures of lawsuits and feud which are integral in the legal structure of VA Iceland. The saga will also expose the reader to some pagan practices such as raising Nithstong to insult enemies, and Egill's thankfulness to Odin for his ability to compose poetry (of which Odin is the patron god.) One aspect of the saga that should be addressed is the sheer scope of the plot in terms of time and space. The story begins several generations before Egill is even born, and the initial chapters take place in Norway, rather than in Iceland. The author explains that many chieftains fled Norway after the rise of Harald Fairhair as the king of 'unified' Norway, due to his institution of a property tax. The saga continues after Egill's death, telling of his son's conversion to Christianity (which places Egill's death as shortly before 1000 AD.) The saga also covers a broad part of the globe, with scenes in; Norway, Courland, Finland, England, Iceland, and perhaps a few other locations. ...more
This is an excellently organized, coherently written overview and analysis of life in the free republic of Iceland. Jesse Byock is a lead scholar of SThis is an excellently organized, coherently written overview and analysis of life in the free republic of Iceland. Jesse Byock is a lead scholar of Scandinavian history at UCLA and writes with great authority and detail on the subject. Although much of the material of this book appeared in an earlier work of his (Medieval Iceland, University of California Press) he has added new conjectures and explanations to provide a fuller description of life on the island. While at times a bit dull (mostly because I'd read the Medieval Iceland, rendering parts of Viking Age Iceland redundant), this is a must-have for anyone interested in Vikings, Iceland, and the Sagas....more
Wow... where to begin? It is so hard to whittle down my feelings about this book into a manageable paragraph or two, simply because of the size and scWow... where to begin? It is so hard to whittle down my feelings about this book into a manageable paragraph or two, simply because of the size and scope of the novel.
Beginning during the 1893 World Fair in Chicago, the novel spans the entirety of the continental US, from coast to coast. Taking place mostly in the West, it chronicles the lives and trials of the Traverse family. The patriarch of the family is an Anarchist mine employee, Webb, also known as the "Kieselguhr Kid" (referring to an ingredient in dynamite) who commonly carries out destructive acts against his capitalist overlords. Eventually, this catches up with him, and he is assassinated at the behest of corporate badman Scarsdale Vibe. Ironically, Vibe ends up paying for the youngest Traverse son, Kit, to receive an Ivy League education, and funds a trip to Göttingen, which is a mathematical Mecca. Webb's two other sons, Frank and Reef, will not stand for the injustice of their father's murder and end up going after Webb's assassins. These men are Deuce Kindred, who in a twist of fate ends up marrying Webb's one and only daughter (Lake,) and Sloat Fresno, who is killed by Reef.
Aside from this American plot, there are numerous stories that take place in continental Europe, Iceland, Turkey, Asia, and Central Asia. These (sub)plots revolve around a host of characters with names typical of Pynchon novels, such as; Cyprian Latewood, Yashmeen Halfcourt, the T.W.I.T., and many more. There are also numerous minor characters who aid the main characters through their journeys in the Balkan peninsula and their searches for numerous mythical places, missing people, and political dissidents. Several important historical occurrences also feature heavily in the novel, including the infamous Tunguska event, the Triple Entente, the Balkan wars, and World War I.
In addition to ground covered and the elapsing of a relatively immense amount of time (nearly three decades,) the novel has an immense thematic scope as well. Most notable of these is the idea of corporate or capitalist greed, which is embodied by fat cat Scarsdale Vibe. Also featured is the Anarchist subculture of the late 19th century (Anarcho-syndicalists) who are mainly the mine workers and manual laborers of the West. Another theme worth mention is the idea of duality, and dualism, the former being mathematical and the latter spiritual or philosophical. Mathematics also feature prominently in the novel, mainly a feud between Vectorists and Quaternionists. Spirituality comes into play, in Cyprian Latewood's decision to become a monk, and numerous discussions of parallel universes or Earth's and the nature of being.
All in all, this was a very satisfying novel. It is Pynchon at his best, a nearly insurmountable challenge, but a joy at the same time. The prose is nearly unparalleled in its richness and vitality, and draws the reader into the story immediately. The characters of this novel are the most vulnerable and open to the reader of any Pynchon I've read (which are ATD, Inherent Vice, V., and Slow Learner.) While the novel was not surprising in terms of difficulty, a trait for which Pynchon is renowned, I would recommend this only to the most dedicated of readers, because it requires an investment both of time and emotion. ...more