Viking Voyager: An Icelandic Memoir by Sverrir Sigurdsson with Veronica Li – Q&A and Giveaway

This post is part of a virtual book tour organized by Goddess Fish Promotions. One randomly chosen winner via rafflecopter will win a $50 Amazon/ gift card. Click on the tour banner to see the other stops on the tour.

Any weird things you do when you’re alone?

I like to eyeball my surroundings and check to see if everything is plumb and level. Is the sign post straight, are the pictures hanging evenly on the wall, the wheels on the car in front of me aligned? Being an architect and a carpenter, the least crookedness sends me off kilter. When Veronica (my wife and coauthor) catches me cocking my head and staring at something with one eye closed, she’d laugh and say, “There he goes again.”

What is your favorite quote and why?

“God is in the details.”—A quote from the German American architect, Mies van der Rohe

I learned the importance of details in my father’s basement workshop. When I was twelve, I carved the front of a bookshelf with a Viking motif. This design is now used as a decorative border on the front and back covers of my book. I believe the final detail I’d added to this carving made all the difference. Instead of leaving the background as it was, I made a tool with many points to roughen the smooth surface of the wood. This texture gave the pattern a new dimension and made it appear to rise up. Since then I’ve applied this principle of “God is in the details” to all my undertakings, from designing buildings to writing my memoir. The difference between a mediocre product and an outstanding one is in the details.

Who is your favorite author and why?

Halldór Laxness, the Icelandic Nobel Laureate for literature. His writing is concise, sharp witted, sometimes outright funny, and his characters are so vivid they remind me of people I know. Much of it is a searing social critique of current or historical norms in Iceland. His books have been translated into many languages, but nothing beats reading it in Icelandic. If a book can sing, his does, which by the way is the title of one of his novels, The Fish Can Sing.

What, in your opinion, are the most important elements of good writing?

The first and foremost element is the theme, and memoir writing is no different. In my memoir, the theme is the backbone that prevents the narrative from collapsing into a mishmash of anecdotes. Unless you’re famous and readers will devour anything you tell about yourself, a memoir needs to focus on a certain aspect of your life, usually one with a compelling revelation worth sharing.

Vividness is another important element. Readers like to be transported to another world, and the only way to do this is to bring out details that enable the reader to see, hear, and smell the scene. This applies to characters as well. When I start talking to a character I’m reading about in a book, this means the author has succeeded.

Where did you get the idea for this book?

My writing started as an incoherent collection of episodes from various stages of my life. I thought it would be a nice document for my descendants. Then Veronica, a former journalist and published author, became fascinated with my stories. She connected the dots and saw the picture that explained who I was. (My quirks had puzzled her for many years.) She could see how my country’s history and Viking heritage had shaped me. So we embarked on a more coherent effort to capture my journey: growing up in Iceland, which cultivated an outward-looking Viking mindset and inspired my subsequent worldwide travels. My memoir became a story about the making of a modern-day Viking and his adventures.

This vivacious personal story captures the heart and soul of modern Iceland. Born in Reykjavik on the eve of the Second World War, Sverrir Sigurdsson watched Allied troops invade his country and turn it into a bulwark against Hitler’s advance toward North America. The country’s post-war transformation from an obscure, dirt-poor nation to a prosperous one became every Icelander’s success. Spurred by this favorable wind, Sverrir answered the call of his Viking forefathers, setting off on a voyage that took him around the world.

Enjoy an Excerpt

My maternal grandfather, Þorkell Magnússon, was the captain of a fishing vessel called Gyða. In early April 1910, he and his seven-man crew, including his eldest son, set sail from Bíldudalur, a small town in northwest Iceland. Their destination was the rich fishing grounds beyond the fjord. April was the beginning of the fishing season, which lasted until September. These were the “mild” months. In reality, the weather was often stormy and below freezing, pushing both the boat and men to the limit of their endurance. Three weeks later, on April 23, Gyða headed for home, her hull laden with cod, the valuable cash fish many fishermen had died for. Nearing their home fjord, the men’s hearts must have lifted. A hot meal, a warm bed, and the family’s embrace were within a day’s reach.

That night, a furious northerly gale pounded the region with snow and sleet, whipping the sea into a deadly cauldron of crashing waves. All hands would have scrambled on deck to wrestle with the wind, jibing and tacking to keep the gusts from capsizing the boat. The battle went on all night. The next morning, Gyða was still upright and staggering closer to home. Einar, my grandfather’s neighbor and a former crew member, attested to seeing her from shore during a visit to his family’s farm on the outer reaches of Arnarfjörður (Eagle Fjord). The wind was still howling, pummeling the boat from left and right. But Einar was confident the boat could hold herself together. After all, Gyða was a sturdy oceangoing vessel, one of the first to be built in Iceland with state-of-the art technology. In just a few more hours, she would reach the safety of the harbor.

About the Authors:Sverrir Sigurdsson grew up in Iceland and graduated as an architect from Finland in 1966. He pursued an international career that took him to the Middle East, Africa, Asia, Eastern Europe, and the U.S. His assignments focused on school construction and improving education in developing countries. He has worked for private companies, as well as UNESCO and the World Bank. He is now retired and lives in Northern Virginia with his wife and coauthor, Veronica.

Veronica Li emigrated to the U.S. from Hong Kong as a teenager. She received her Bachelor of Arts in English from the University of California, Berkeley, and her master’s degree in International Affairs from Johns Hopkins University. She has worked as a journalist and for the World Bank, and is currently a writer. Her three previously published titles are: Nightfall in Mogadishu, Journey across the Four Seas: A Chinese Woman’s Search for Home, and Confucius Says: A Novel.

Website | Sverrir’s Amazon Author Page | Veronica’s Amazon Author Page | Sverrir’s Facebook | Veronica’s Facebook | Sverrir’s Twitter | Veronica’s Twitter | Goodreads
The Book will be $1.99 during the tour.

Buy the book at Amazon or Amazon CA.

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  1. Thanks for hosting!

  2. Sverrir Sigurdsson says

    Thanks for featuring my memoir. I grew up in exciting times in Iceland and got the inspiration to travel the world like my Viking ancestors.

  3. Victoria Alexander says

    Thanks for sharing the great post and awesome giveaway 🙂

    • Sverrir Sigurdsson says

      Happy to see you again, Victoria. Hope you enjoy the Q&A and the opening excerpt of the book. What happened to my grandfather affected the course of my family history. What hardships Icelandic fisherman suffered!

  4. Sverrir Sigurdsson says

    Happy Thanksgiving, everyone! And stay well!

  5. I love the cover and think the book sounds great.

    • Sverrir Sigurdsson says

      The cover is an aerial photo of the southernmost area in Iceland where I spent summers working on a farm from age 9-14. Iceland is full of magnificent landscapes like those in the photo.

  6. Bea LaRocca says

    Thank you for sharing the author interview and book excerpt, this sounds like an excellent read.

    • Sverrir Sigurdsson says

      Glad you like the post. I like to link my personal story with the events of the time. Good to be reminded we’re part of something bigger.

  7. James Robert says

    Good morning and thank you for the book description and giveaway.   I appreciate both of them.

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