Ripples from Iceland was written in 1962 by Amalia Lindal, an American who met an Icelandic man at university, married him and moved to Iceland in 1949. This book is about her first impressions of the country and her observations on Icelandic life as a foreigner.
The first impression you have when reading this book is how much Iceland has changed in 50 years. She arrived in a country after a 15 hour flight from Boston where the food was very limited, there wasn’t much to buy and most people hadn’t left Iceland. It must have been a very intimidating place to try and make a life for yourself if you didn’t even speak the language.
I enjoyed reading this book, partly because it reminded me of the kind of textbooks we used to read in school. She devotes each chapter to a different aspect of Icelandic life. Naturally, much of what she was concerned with was domestic life, having 5 children and a husband, who all come home for lunch at slightly different times of the day. Having been something of an intellectual at home, she seems to struggle with staying at home all the time, and freely admitted to struggling to have conversations of any depth with women. Unfortunately, men and women were very segregated socially and any attempts she made to have conversations with men were frowned upon.
From what I understand, the book did cause some grumbling when published as she was critical in places of both Icelanders and American Embassy wives. I think that she found writing therapeutic and perhaps underestimated the upset of publishing a book in a place where people could recognise themselves when reading it. I really feel that she wrote this book for herself rather than others. Some chapters are a little cryptic and I’m not sure if this is down to the editing or because she didn’t realise she would have an audience reading from a different time and place.
I didn’t feel that she ever really felt at home in Iceland, although she did appreciate some aspects, such as it being a classless society and a wonderful place for children.
There is an epilogue in the book written in the 1980s when she was on a return visit. She notices how much has changed in a material sense, although she found the people to be socially much the same.
Ultimately, Amalia divorced her husband and moved to Toronto, where she remarried and spent the rest of her life. I would love to know the stories of her children and how many came back to Iceland, and more about her life after this book.
Unfortunately, this book is hard to buy outside Iceland, but will appeal to those interested in Icelandic culture and history (yes, this reads like a history book even though it’s only 50 years old!).