The Book of the Week is “Names for the Sea” by Sarah Moss, published in 2012. This ebook recounts the experiences of a family who lived in Iceland for about half of 2008 and 2009.
The author was inspired to spend a prolonged period in Iceland after traveling there with a friend in the summer of 1995 when they were nineteen. Thirteen years later, she had the opportunity to move her husband and two young sons from England to Reykjavik for her work as a literature professor. It was just around the time of Iceland’s economic collapse.
Some aspects of the culture they found quirky include: most adults drive cars while high schoolers take the public buses; there is very lax security at schools and on domestic airplane flights (as they found when they flew to the Westman Islands, which is volcano country) because Icelandic citizens are nonviolent, ethical, socially insular and trustful of each other; age six is the start of reading and writing in early childhood education– there is no academic pressure prior to that.
People in Iceland usually graduate high school two years later than in most other countries, and start their families at a young age, prior to attending college. All mothers and fathers work, because, for nine months they divide up the parental leave just after a child is born, and their government pays a large percentage of daycare. No mothers are criticized for working. There is casual family structure that might involve changing of marital partners in the course of a decade, even when there are children, with no hard feelings.
In Iceland, the author had tremendous freedom in creating her own curriculum at the university; in the United Kingdom she would need to complete a mountain of paperwork and follow a laundry list of rules if she even requested to teach a new course.
Read the book to learn of the economic hardships, political protests and volcanic eruption in Iceland that had begun during the author’s family’s stay, and the Icelanders’ take on religion, literacy, the weather, and various other aspects of the culture.