EE Ryan is an American author who has previously studied in Iceland. The Odd Saga of the American and a Curious Icelandic Flock is a short work of fiction about an American student, Alex Welch, who has recently arrived in Iceland to perform research on sheep.
I was curious to read this book as books about Iceland by foreigners are few and far between. Ryan clearly enjoyed his time in Iceland, and I’m assuming that some of the characters are based on a combination of people that he met in Iceland.
So what is the premise? In a nutshell, Alex realises fairly quickly that not all is what it seems with what his colleague Snorri the vet and the research they are performing. There is a lot of foreshadowing from the start that things go wrong somehow, and once they do go wrong, the story moves quite quickly.
Along the way, we are introduced to colourful characters, visit some farms and generally feel some of the culture shock that a student studying abroad would feel. In my opinion, this is an aspect that could have been developed much more – at least initially, Alex would have noticed lots of little things that would quickly become ordinary but as a first time visitor are exciting and novel. I would have liked to see more of this.
In terms of timeframe, Alex is in Iceland when the September 11 attacks happen and it would have been interesting to have more Icelandic perspective on this event, perhaps even just through a couple of conversations. Otherwise, I’m not sure why this aspect was included – possibly this is when the author was abroad? I would have liked to go a bit deeper here as this could have added more of an interesting angle.
There are some genuinely funny moments in the book and it is a quick and easy read. If you’ve been to Iceland, you will enjoy reading familiar place names and meeting some sterotypical Icelanders. I particularly enjoyed some of the little things like Alex unexpectedly being picked up at 3:00 am by Snorri to go out to work (“real Icelanders don’t sleep”) and the petrol station food. Ryan also had a talent in describing some of his characters that made me think “Yes, I’ve met an Icelander like this before…”
Perhaps my biggest criticism (and this is also something I struggle with in my writing) is not enough detail in places, particularly around the Snorri storyline. I found myself having to go back to check whether I’d missed something.
My suggestion for a second book would be something more autobiographical and perhaps aimed at the student market, as I’m sure Ryan has plenty of good and funny stories to tell from that time in his life.
You can buy this book from Amazon in the US and UK.