In Conversation with Sverrir Sigurdsson

I have the pleasure of talking to author Sverrir Sigurdsson on the blog.

His book, Viking Voyager: An Icelandic Memoir is a prize winner of The Wishing Shelf Book Awards organized by a group of UK authors.

“Not only a well written memoir, but an interesting take on Icelandic history from post-World War Two until present day. A RED RIBBON WINNER and highly recommended.” – The Wishing Shelf Book Awards

Get the book on Amazon.

Read on to know more about Sverrir Sigurdsson, his book and advice for all his readers!

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Tell us a little about yourself.

I’m originally from Iceland, born and raised there.  At the age of 19, I left my country to explore the world.  My first stop was Finland.  After getting an architecture degree there, I took on an international career so I could see the world and have somebody pay for my travels.  I’ve visited 60 countries on 5 continents, and done work from building a harem for the ruler of Abu Dhabi to building schools in poor countries in Africa and elsewhere.

What prompted you to start writing your memoir?

I love telling stories of my international adventures.  My friends encouraged me to write them down.  So I did and saved them as “episodes” on my computer, kind of like dumping photos in a shoebox.  Then I showed some pages to my wife, Veronica Li, who’s a published author.  She read them and was surprised to discover what an interesting guy I was.  She helped me put my episodes into a memoir called Viking Voyager: An Icelandic Memoir.

We wanted to make it a human interest story that appeals to a wide audience.  At the time of our writing, Iceland was a tourist hot spot.  (In a country of 360,000, we had 2 million tourists in 2019!)  The literature on Iceland, however, was mostly travel guides.  We decided I could tell tourists about my country by introducing them to my family, our way of life, and the road we’ve traveled to be where we are today.

How easy/difficult was it to write your memoir?

Writing is never easy, but fortunately we were two heads working together.  We make a good team because we’re so different.  I’m a hardware person good at brick and mortar stuff, while Veronica is a software person, in tune with feelings and human relationships.  Our strengths and weaknesses complemented each other.

During the pandemic lockdown, we were most happy to have our writing to obsess about.  We would have gone crazy otherwise!

Sverrir and his wife, Veronica

How much time did you spend on writing on average per day?

Veronica and I both like to write in the morning.  From around 9am to noon, we would be at our respective desks.  When something needs to be discussed, we know exactly where to find each other.

What is one thing you discovered on this journey that you did not know beforehand?

I’ve always known Icelandic fishermen have a tough life, especially before the advent of modern technology.  But I didn’t know how tough it was until I listened to a recording of my uncle Óli, which was part of the National Library’s cultural heritage project.  My uncle, a fisherman since the age of 10, talked about the blustery, icy weather, the cramped conditions on the boat, the monotony of the food (fish and potatoes), the nonstop work once the boat reached a fishing ground, and the danger of storms.  Many have perished, including my own grandfather and his first-born.

Reliving the hardships of previous generations makes me appreciate all the more the progress Iceland has made in a short time.  From a dirt poor nation, it has become one of the most prosperous in the world.

The fishing boat skippered by Sverrir Sigurdsson’s grandfather

How do you feel about your Viking ancestry?

First of all, are Vikings good guys or bad guys?  To Icelanders, they’re heroes, adventurers who brought home wealth and glory.  To people of the British Isles, they’re definitely villains who pillaged and plundered.  This type of Viking, however, lasted only 200 years.  After that period, Icelanders left home to serve a foreign leader and prove themselves in battle before returning home.

Modern-day Vikings are yet another breed.  Being a small nation Icelanders have to go overseas to study and learn from more advanced nations.  I think of myself as an example.  I left Iceland to study architecture in Finland, and afterwards I traveled the world to acquire experience.  Except that I didn’t return home as planned.  I’m now settled in the US.  My heart, however, will always be Icelandic.  Be they heroes or villains, I admire my Viking forefathers for their self-sufficiency, resilience, and endurance.

What kind of impact did this journey of discovery have on you?

My friends often call me a Viking for running around in short sleeves when they’re shivering in jackets.  I never took their joking to heart.  But writing my memoir made me discover how truly Viking I am.  My childhood in Iceland taught me all the skills I needed to survive in the world.  The moment I finished high school, I left my homeland to make my fortune.  Retracing my journey makes me realize that I’ve indeed found my fortune, not in riches but in the wealth of experiences gathered from the places I’ve visited and people met.

What kind of books do you like to read? Give us some examples or recommendations.

I like to read thrillers, especially those that involve international politics and intrigue.  Some of my favorite authors are Frederik Forsyth, John le Carré, and Richard North Patterson.

Which is your favourite place to visit or talk about?

Despite my worldwide travels, my favorite place is still Iceland.  I guess you’ve heard about the volcano eruption going on there.  Icelanders call it a “tourist eruption,” spectacular fireworks that attract tourists but does no harm.  This area is part of the volcano belt that gave Iceland its name, “land of ice and fire.”  In south Iceland, where I spent summers working on a farm, glaciers lie atop volcanoes gurgling and biding their time to erupt.  My book cover shows the scenery of this area: in the foreground stands a cliff with a doorway carved by the sea, in the middle a mountain that was once an island, and in the background the snow-capped volcano that shut down Trans-Atlantic air travel in 2010.  The landscape is the wild and wonderful creations of violent volcanic activity.  Each of these features was formed when fire met ice or seawater, causing the rapidly cooling lava to turn into a rock formation called “tuff” or palagonite.  Iceland is full of such fantastic landscape.

Sverrir Sigurdsson’s book cover

What do you do when you aren’t writing?

My true love is carpentry.  In my youth I’d aspired to become a carpenter when I grew up.  My older sister nudged me to take it one step further and become an architect.  I’m most grateful to her for helping me choose my career.  In my heart, though, I remain a carpenter.  One woodwork project or another is always on my plate.  I just finished building a fence around my backyard to keep out the deer.  Hope it works!

Finally, what message do you want to share with us readers?

I encourage everyone to travel, not just as a tourist, but to live and work for a spell in a foreign country.  You’ll be surprised what kind of opportunities you’ll find.  Most of all, you’ll be surprised to find out who you are and what you’re capable of.

Guest Post: Digging into My Roots by author Sverrir Sigurdsson

It has been a long time since I had the pleasure of hosting an author on my blog. I am pleased to restart the same by hosting author Sverrir Sigurdsson as he talks about the events leading up to his memoir, Viking Voyager: An Icelandic Memoir.

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About the Book:

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. Join him on his roaring adventures!

Link to the book: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B08MDMRM66

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Guest Post by Sverrir Sigurdsson

A memoirist is supposed to depend mostly on his memory.  But when I started writing my memoirs, I felt what was stored in my brain wasn’t enough.  To get to the bottom of who I was, I needed to burrow into the consciousness of the people I came from. 

My dad had researched the family tree of my maternal grandmother and traced it all the way to our ancestors who lived in Sognefjord, Norway in the late seventh century.  In other words, I’m a descendant of the original Vikings who left Norway for Iceland in protest over King Harald the Beautiful Hair’s efforts to unify the country.  My ancestral pantheon includes Erik the Red and his son, Leif Eriksson the explorer.  But names alone weren’t enough; I wanted to know these people, how they lived, what they did in life, and what they were made of. 

I started by digging into my grandparents’ stories.  My maternal grandmother was no stranger to me as she lived with the family until she died.  She was as gentle as a lamb with me, but she had to have the heart of a lioness to face down the tragedy of losing her husband and son in one fell swoop and continue to raise her four other children.  The other three grandparents, however, had passed away before I was born. 

Since I was located in the US, I was worried that accessing material for my memoirs might pose a challenge.  To my delight, the internet brought the world to my fingertips.  My first seminal find happened while browsing the online catalogue of the Icelandic National Library.  My Uncle Óli’s name appeared in a cultural heritage project conducted by the library some years ago.  I emailed the librarian, who promptly sent me the digitized cassette tapes of his interview.   I clicked on one of the files, and there was my long-dead uncle speaking to me in his gravelly voice.  In the interviews, he describes life as a seaman fishing the rough seas around Iceland.  Having started his maritime career at the age of ten, the working age of Icelandic children in those days, he had plenty to tell.  His words fill five hours of recording.

His accounts also shed light on his father, my grandfather.  He was a self-made man who started as an orphaned farmhand and ended as skipper of a lucrative fishing vessel called Gyða.  One day in 1910, his ship disappeared during a storm.  Forty some years later, the ship’s mast was recovered from the bottom of the fjord, but none of the remains of the skipper, his first-born son and the other six crew members have been found.  Uncle Óli would have gone down with them if he hadn’t stayed behind to take a school leaving exam that day.

On another internet search, I stumbled on the digitized logbook of Gyða’s first captain, the one before my grandfather.  The log is typically terse and dry, recording the weather, the catch, and the ship’s location, which could reach as far north as the Polar Circle.  Some entries are more interesting than others, and here is one: 

“A flu epidemic ravaged the town that winter.  By the time Gyða set sail, three men had come down with the flu, and a fourth would join them by the time they reached the fishing grounds.  Despite good weather and an abundance of fish, the lines were idle because all but the skipper and one crew member were in bed, delirious with fever.  When the skipper finally succumbed to the flu, some of the other patients had recovered sufficiently to execute the sailing chores.  A few days later, the crew was still weak but well enough to resume fishing.  However, the bait, herring, had gone bad because the ice had melted while they were ill.”

I struck a goldmine on the website www.timarit.is . Until recently, accessing newspaper articles in Icelandic papers would have been a formidable task.  But a few years ago, the University of Iceland and the National Libraries of Iceland, the Faroe Islands, and Greenland joined hands to digitize every newspaper article and periodical printed from the beginning of news publishing in the 1800s until today.  To date, almost six million pages of searchable text are available to anyone for free at the site.

A story about my father’s side of the family came from an unexpected source—a Canadian newspaper that serves the Icelandic diaspora in North America.  This heroic tale of devastation and salvation took place during the exceptionally long and cold winter of 1880-1881.  Runólfur, a farmer in northeast Iceland, was then old and infirm.  He foresaw a shortage of hay in spring and asked for help from farmers in a nearby valley where the weather was milder.  They came to his rescue, sheltering and feeding his sheep until early May.  Assuming the winter was over, they sent the sheep back.  But shortly after, snowstorms hit Runólfur’s farm again, dumping four feet of snow, which quickly turned into a solid sheet of ice.  The neighboring farmers rallied once again.  They crossed the snow- and ice-covered mountain pass on foot and skis and herded the sheep back across the pass.  To keep the starving sheep moving, the rescuers carried on their backs sacks of hay, which they emptied now and then to entice the sheep to go on.  They did the trek not once but twice in order to get all the sheep, horses, and cows, as well as people to safety.  My grandfather, Runólfur Hannesson, born in 1867, was the nephew of his namesake in the above story.

These people and their stories were never far from my mind when I wrote Viking Voyager: An Icelandic Memoir.  Their endurance kept the nation going until conditions were ripe for Iceland to prosper.  To them I owe my golden childhood and the superb education that equipped me to compete in the world.  The spirit of these same people egged me to pursue an architecture degree in Finland and from thereon to adventures around the world.  To them I owe my fortune, not in monetary terms but in the wealth of experiences gathered from the places I visited and people met.  Vikings traveled the world to seek their fortune; I’ve indeed found mine.

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The year that was…

With just 3 more days for the year 2016 to end, I thought it would be great to take a look back at some of the books that I enjoyed immensely throughout this year. It has been a good year where books are concerned. As many of you who may follow me on Goodreads or are my friends there may know, I managed to complete my target of 60 books for the year which is quite a personal achievement.

Read on the know about my favourite books of the year (in no particular order). I have picked out the books which have left a profound impact on me in some way, however minor it may be. All the books mentioned below have been previously reviewed on my blog. I have included a part of the review for each book as well. Click on each title to be directed back to my review of the respective book.

Many of the books I will list are based on real life, and many are just children’s stories. However all of them have inspired me and helped quench my thirst for reading.

Many of the books mentioned below were given to me by the authors in exchange for an honest review, while others I found on Goodreads and jumped at the chance to expand my horizons and tastes. I was certainly enchanted and happy with my choices.

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  • Under the Pong Pong Tree by Hal Levey This is a refreshing read and a breath taking, heart  stopping account of life faced during the WWII, and a look at a smaller war that most would not comment on.
  • The minds of Billy Milligan by Daniel Keyes – This book not only chronicles the life of Billy Milligan, it brings out the psychology of the mind in relation to MPD as well as how easy it is for people to brand someone a charlatan or an attention seeker without really understanding them. Moreover, through the eyes of Billy’s personalities, we can form a picture as to why each one came to exist and how they played a part in his life. We are indeed afraid of the unknown and I believe this book gives us great insight into one of the mysteries of the mind.
  • The Ones That Got Away by Suanne Laqueur – This book only adds to the beauty of the story Suanne has crafted and will make the reader love it more. It will no doubt leave the reader with a heavy heart, but it was worth it. The characters and chapters that were created and written but got left behind or removed from the story are well worth the effort of writing them. Sometimes, as Suanne has mentioned, it’s better to just write what you think and then see the usage later on. The bonus insight into Erik’s younger days when his father was still there and after he leaves are wonderful and I hope Suanne uses this in a story sometime in the future. I will say this, everyone should, at some point, read The Man I Love and enjoy this story and world as much as I have.
  • Delbert – The Reluctant Spy (book #1) by Marko Kitti – The story is filled with adventure and lots of humor as we follow Delbert on his journey towards becoming an international secret agent. It is written in Marko’s unique style, something you’d already recognize if you are, like me, a fan of the Jesper Jinx series and the language is simple and easy to follow. Overall this is a new series from Marko that you wouldn’t want to miss out on. It is an easy and entertaining read, even for those who are much older but have perhaps forgotten to grow up, just like me!
  • Ask Him Why by Catherine Ryan Hyde – The story teaches us to ask questions, to seek for the answers before making a judgement call, to think before one acts. This is a wonderfully written book and will tug at your heart strings in more ways than you can imagine. It teaches the reader so many lessons that I highly recommend this book to everyone.
  • Love Warrior : A Memoir by Glennon Doyle Melton – This memoir, teaches us all to be warriors. We can all do it, even when one hits rock bottom, one can only go upwards from there. The writing is wonderful and through this, Glennon expresses deep emotions, sharing a lot of her experiences with us. The memoir will pull the reader into it, making us experience every single emotion that the author did, and at the end, it will spit the reader out, a different person. The entire book will touch you in ways you will not expect and is worth the time spent reading.
  • Broken Angels by Gemma Liviero – To be honest, I had to put up a fight with my sane self (or conscience) to read the book and at times I had to pause for a while to let go of the emotions that were building up while reading. Sometimes the plot sows down, but the author does justice in the way she has described each scene and the setting of the story.
  • The Legend of Lakshmi Prasad by Twinkle Khanna – It is a short book, with exactly 4 stories and can be read rather quickly. It would make a wonderful read while traveling. I think that every person should read this book as there is a lot to take away from the stories. There is much to learn and the author conveys the same without sounding preachy. Focusing on women empowerment and the important role that women play, the author has largely depicted the trials that women face in their everyday lives.
  • An Exaltation of Larks by Suanne Laqueur – Upon reading the summary/synopsis of the story, one can figure out much about the plot and thus I will refrain from explaining more about it for fear of revealing everything. This book is not just a simple story, it is a journey that the reader must prepare themselves to embark on with no chance of return. The story will touch the reader in ways that they would not expect and there will be no chance of putting the book down. Even after finishing it, for a time, the reader will feel as though there is a void inside them and they need time to fill it up again and feel whole. These are the kind of emotions that Suanne inspires in the reader through her writing.

    Life is an unpredictable roller-coaster ride and all we can do is choose the paths we want to take at each cross-road and then live with our decisions.

  • The Magician’s Workshop, Volume One & Two by Christopher Hansen and J.R. Fehr – This book continues on in chapters from where the previous left off. The authors flawlessly craft the story to take us further and draw us in. They maintain the playfulness and style of expression which is quite refreshing and enhance the concepts and story. It is easy to experience everything with the characters and this is one of the main things that drew my attention.The style of writing, the description about each projection only add to the soaring imagination of the reader. A wonderful feat achieved successfully by the authors. Kudos to the work they have done and the time they have spent in creating this world.It has been a while since reading Harry Potter, that a series in this genre has kept me hooked. I will say it again and again that this is one mega awesome read! Keep projecting and I hope that the next book comes out soon.

Please do share your thoughts and book recommendations for the next year are definitely welcome.

Moving on from that, I look forward to 2017 being a much better year for books. I hope that you all continue to support me and give me the same love that you have shown this year.

Thank you all for your wonderful support and trust.

Happy New Year in advance!

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Love Warrior : A Memoir by Glennon Doyle Melton

About the Book:

The highly anticipated new memoir by bestselling author Glennon Doyle Melton tells the story of her journey of self-discovery after the implosion of her marriage.

Just when Glennon Doyle Melton was beginning to feel she had it all figured out—three happy children, a doting spouse, and a writing career so successful that her first book catapulted to the top of the New York Times bestseller list—her husband revealed his infidelity and she was forced to realize that nothing was as it seemed. A recovering alcoholic and bulimic, Glennon found that rock bottom was a familiar place. In the midst of crisis, she knew to hold on to what she discovered in recovery: that her deepest pain has always held within it an invitation to a richer life.

Love Warrior is the story of one marriage, but it is also the story of the healing that is possible for any of us when we refuse to settle for good enough and begin to face pain and love head-on. This astonishing memoir reveals how our ideals of masculinity and femininity can make it impossible for a man and a woman to truly know one another – and it captures the beauty that unfolds when one couple commits to unlearning everything they’ve been taught so that they can finally, after thirteen years of marriage, fall in love.

Love Warrior is a gorgeous and inspiring account of how we are born to be warriors: strong, powerful, and brave; able to confront the pain and claim the love that exists for us all. This chronicle of a beautiful, brutal journey speaks to anyone who yearns for deeper, truer relationships and a more abundant, authentic life.

My Thoughts:

I came across this book on the Oprah’s Book Club group on Goodreads. The synopsis was compelling and being someone’s true life story, I felt the need to pick this book up and read it. I was into it from the moment I started reading and didn’t put it down until I completed reading it.

Glennon talks about finding herself when she hits rock bottom, how at each stage she is pulled down and tries to come up. She speaks so openly about her thoughts and emotions. She talks about finding God and how she keeps the faith. A raw approach to everything she has faced, written down so openly, it puts a lot of things in perspective. This book is not only for married couples, but for everyone who feel that they have lost their way. Through Glennon’s journey we learn of loving oneself, trusting in oneself and then learning to be comfortable with who we are.

This memoir, teaches us all to be warriors. We can all do it, even when one hits rock bottom, one can only go upwards from there. The writing is wonderful and through this, Glennon expresses deep emotions, sharing a lot of her experiences with us. The memoir will pull the reader into it, making us experience every single emotion that the author did, and at the end, it will spit the reader out, a different person. The entire book will touch you in ways you will not expect and is worth the time spent reading.

Bottom-line: Stay strong and stay positive. Things will work out in the end.

Book Review: Who am I? by Megan Cyrulewski

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About Megan:

Megan Cyrulewski is an ordinary person who has faced extraordinary challenges and now wants to inspire people and show them that hope gives them the power to survive anything. Who Am I? is about her journey into post-partum depression, anxiety disorder, panic attacks, visits to the psych ward, divorce, domestic violence, law school, and her courageous struggle to survive with her sanity intact-and how a beautiful little girl emerged from all this chaos.

 

 

 

 

 

My Thoughts:

This is indeed a true story and I cannot even begin to imagine or understand how Megan coped with her life. I am glad she is out of it and is moving on. Her story has touched me to the depths of my soul and though I  have not gone through what she has I could feel her pain, her sadness and her happiness all in one. It is truly amazing how she has taken her experience in life and written about it sharing it with the world. It does take a lot of strength to do that and to deal with what she has and I admire her for it.

The message Megan is trying to get across to all women out there is clear and precise:

Postpartum Depression can affect anyone and there is nothing wrong in seeking treatment or consulting a doctor. Also, emotional abuse is a form of domestic violence and is not to be taken lightly.

These are some things all women should understand and all men should be aware of. Frankly this is a book that everyone should read as each person will have something to take away, some experience that they can understand or there might be something someone can relate to.

A well written memoir, this book highlights Megan’s journey from her marriage to divorce and how she continues to study law without giving up. She mentions specific instances and situations which were indicative of abusive behavior but were ignored. Megan honestly shares her feelings, thoughts and emotions in all situations. She admits her feelings about her pregnancy and how later she grows to love her daughter who is now the center of her life. Megan’s parents supported her through her pregnancy, separation and divorce. It is not easy to deal with all this but when there are people who understand and support you it goes a long way in helping.

I strongly recommend this book to everyone out there! Please read it and pass the news on to others. Please understand what Megan is trying to convey through her experiences and try to help others in need.

In conversation with Megan Cyrulewski

In conversation with Megan Cyrulewski. She has written her memoir, Who Am I? How My Daughter Taught Me to Let Go and Live Again, which was released on August 2, 2014.  The book is about her journey into post-partum depression, anxiety disorder, panic attacks, stays in the psych ward, divorce, domestic violence, law school, how she managed to graduate from law school and a beautiful little girl who emerged from all of the chaos.  There are two extremely important messages she would like to get across:

One:  Postpartum Depression still has a negative stigma attached to it.  Women shouldn’t be afraid to seek treatment if they feel something is wrong.

Two:  Emotional abuse is a form of domestic violence and is not to be taken lightly.  It took 10 strangers in a group therapy session in the hospital psych ward to tell me that I was in an emotionally abusive marriage and that I needed to get out for the sake of my daughter.

I will be posting my review of her memoir soon. Here is what Megan has to say:

  • What inspired you to start writing?

Everyone kept telling me that I should write a book about everything that had happened. I love to write so I figured, why not?

  • Tell us a little about yourself.

I am from Michigan – born and raised.   I have a beautiful, intelligent, but sometimes sassy, little girl named Madelyne Rose. I’m an attorney specializing in court mediation but I’m also an author. I’m working on my second book – crime fiction.

 

  • How did writing your memoir help you deal with your past?

It was closure for me. That part of my life is past and I am now in the present and plan to stay there.

 

  • How easy/difficult was it to write it?

There were days I had to walk away from my computer. It was difficult reliving some of the tough times but I don’t regret writing the book.

 

  • What are your hobbies?

Reading (obviously), swimming, and watching reality TV – some trashy. It’s my vice. I can’t help it!

 

  • What led to law as a career choice?

I have always loved the law but I never thought I was smart enough to get into law school. When I started disliking my career in the non-profit sector, I thought I might as well take the LSAT and see what happens. I passed and was offered admission to two good law schools here in Michigan.

 

  • How do you manage your time around work, your daughter and writing?

Luckily, I’m my own boss so I can make my own schedule. Plus, Madelyne is in pre-school full time. But when she comes home, I put all of my work away and spend time with her.

 

  • What message would you like to share with the readers?

One – If you have postpartum depression, don’t feel ashamed to seek treatment.

Second – Emotional abuse is a form of domestic violence. Those of you who are in that type of relationship need to seek help right away.

Connect with Megan:

www.megancyrulewski.com

twitter: @MeganCyrulewski