I'd recommend Iceland to just about anyone. It's beautiful, the culture is fascinating, and there's no other place on Earth quite like it. But like everywhere else, Iceland has its downsides: The people are incredibly reserved, for one thing, and the food is shit. Sarah Moss's memoir about moving to Iceland, Names for the Sea, is a book that explores both ends of that spectrum.
Moss became obsessed with Iceland during a youthful trip, but when she left Great Britain to teach in Iceland, the fantasy of the country smashed into the reality of it. She's in love with the land, but Icelanders huddle close and keep foreigners at arm's length. She writes about a friend who had it even worse:
Charlotte's outsider status in Reykjavík is doubled because she is black. The first few times she visited her husband's family, she says, people used to turn around in the street to watch her go past. Children would hide and point. When she was driving one day and saw another black driver at a traffic light, they waved and smiled in astonishment and it took her only two days to find out who the other person was.
Grocery shopping in Iceland is a nightmare, the place is insanely expensive, and there's barely any public transit to speak of. But then Moss has a moment like this:
And then we're outside, the air a cool flannel on the face after a long run under a hot sun. There's snow, a drift of crystals each the size of a dandelion seed, and, at 2 p.m., sun on the snow, the slanting late-afternoon light that's the Icelandic winter zenith. The snow is so light that when the children kick it, it drifts down again like feathers, and all the lines in the land are softened. As the bus sets off, the low sunlight is pink, the mountains and the swaddled outlines of the lava field the colour of candyfloss. Ghosts of steam rise from the pools at the side of the airport road and hang there, swaying a little.
And she's swept up in the magic of it all again. No place on Earth is perfect, and we have to wrestle with that battle between the good and the bad wherever we decide to make our home. I'd recommend Names for the Sea to anyone who's planning to visit Iceland, or just anyone who's had to make a home for themselves in a place that looks nothing like their own country of origin.