I just finished reading Vikings on a Prairie Ocean written by Glenn Sigurdson. It is a powerful and profound book that I just want to pick up and start reading again from page one. I will do that but first I feel compelled to share how the reading of these complex and yet interwoven layers of the simple and complicated stories of family, heritage, business, and relationships combined with the essences of the past, present and future have affected me. I predict that everyone who reads this book will find bonds between themselves and the lives of those who have come together within these pages.
In the first chapter Glenn draws the reader into his chronicle by explaining how he came to write his life story during the many plane trips made as he plied his way between difficult conversations. He also gives the first introduction into the process of how he moves from “a recovered lawyer” to someone ”who helps people have difficult conversations”. Chapter Two begins the saga layer of Glenn himself with the delightful and exciting adventure of “going north”. The boundless energy of this little kid brings back the free spirited childhood that children used to have during a time when parents knew that their children would be safe because every adult in the community was on the watch. Glenn’s reminiscences of his childhood and hometown draw the reader back to that period of growing up with the daily adventures of any child who remembers the freedom that is no more for the young.
History books could learn valuable lessons in how to engage children in their immediate history in the way that Glenn portrays the parallel stories of his maternal and paternal great great-grandparents and their descendants. He begins by setting the scene in Iceland that would precipitate the immigration to Nýja Ísland (New Iceland) detailing the devastation following the eruption of the volcanoes. rule, and famine and including the dire straits resulting from the feudal system of farming.
Skip to the Sigurdson family saga….1876. Glenn interweaves the early history of the New Iceland immigrants as they begin to adapt to their new circumstances. He also sets up the long associations of his family with the local First Nations people explaining how Sígurđur was able to fish during the winter using long poles cut from the forest to aid in setting his nets under the ice.
The Brynjolfson family comes into the saga with the arrival of Brynjólfur Jónsson in Hecla 1889 and Glenn uses an unusual approach to his storytelling as he parallels his father’s family, his mother’s family, their interaction with the local Indians and the beginning of the family business which ultimately becomes Sigurdson Fisheries. Glenn’s writing brings the past forward into the future and brings his personal story forward to the present.
This reader must confess to being tempted to correct a historical inaccuracy about the Ramsay gravesite but did refrain because Glenn was relating what he had heard as a child. Interesting also to observe that the spelling of the Icelandic names in his mother’s family are all spelled correctly while the Icelandic names and words connected to his father’s family are not. Even more unusual, the errors are due to being written phonetically using English phonetics for the Icelandic pronunciation.
The reader will appreciate the ebb and flow of Glenn’s storytelling more if I simply say he tells it well as he lays the grounding for his becoming a “recovering lawyer”. As Glenn’s story evolves further one gets the impression that Glenn was destined as a result of his families experiences and inter-relationships with the many and varied peoples in his life, in Riverton, Hecla, the Interlake, during school and university, in his law practice and ultimately through circumstances to become the kind of mediator who ”helps people have conversations.”
Altogether a fascinating book, well told, and a glimpse into the development of a family saga in the true Icelandic style but as applied to how the immigrating Icelanders became assimilated into the Canadian mosaic panorama without losing their identity.
This is a book that should rightly be in the library of every Icelander, not because it is well written, which it is, but because Glenn details so clearly the extensive understanding between the Icelandic immigrant, and the Aboriginal or First Nation peoples. It is this understanding that varies through the generations making it not only possible but imperative that Glenn naturally be the one who becomes the negotiator or peacemaker if you will as laid out in his book.