Friday, March 11, 2011

Book #16: Greenland – They Came on Viking Ships by Jackie French

I hope everyone you know is safe and well, and that everyone affected by the Japanese earthquake and tsunami is okay. I know, not really very realistic, but I hope it anyway.

I like historical fiction. I should read more of it. This book is based on 13th century sagas about Norse voyages to Greenland and North America, and is called Slave Girl in some places. Jackie French, although not from Greenland, is a great author and friend to wombats, and you should check out her other books ('In the Blood' trilogy is good).
Hekja lives in a small village on a Scottish island around the turn of the eleventh century AD. Her life, which is already difficult, becomes much harder when Vikings destroy her village, killing nearly everyone and taking Hekja and her dog Snarf captive. Her mistress is Freydis Eriksson, sister to Leif Eriksson, and Hekja can’t figure out how to think of these people - they killed her friends and mother and yet have humanity at close range. She wants only to return home with Snarf, but it’s pretty hard to do that when you’re taken hundreds of miles across the sea to a new land, Greenland.
There is not much green in Greenland. Trees do not grow tall enough to make buildings, and small icebergs float in the fjords even in summer. The people rely on traders for building materials and other goods, and must huddle out the dark winter in their longhouses. But everywhere is beautiful in its own way, as Hekja notes, and she begins to accept her life, even if she dreams of more.
Norsemen had settled Iceland some time before, and Freydis’ father discovered Greenland while banished. Freydis’ brother discovered North America, and Freydis wants to have a voyage of her own, and be seen as a leader in her own right. Hekja is taken further from her home, to the new Vinland (somewhere on the US east coast).
This is a great immersion in the life of ten centuries ago. It makes you glad for electric heaters and microwaves, but also wistful for times of adventure, when the world was wide and surprising. I suppose it can still be surprising, but in a different way. We know everything, or we think we do.
Any books about Greenland you recommend?

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