Pam on the Map [2/2]: Book review

Pam on the Map: Iceland

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Seattle author and travel enthusiast Pam Stucky isn’t interested in pre-packaged sightseeing tours. “I don’t want to see The Best Of a country,” she writes. “I want to see its Soul. I want to see its Heart. I want a deeper relationship that shows me who a country really is.” It’s a philosophy she keeps at the heart of her recent travel memoir, Pam on the Map: Iceland.

Released in October 2013, the book chronicles Stucky’s trip around the Ring Road in July and August 2013, with chapter divisions mirroring the legs of her trip. Starting in Reykjavík, Stucky drove counterclockwise around the island, exploring the south, east, north and west before returning to the city. Her itinerary mostly included typical tourist stops (Góðafoss, Mývatn, Akureyri), but Stucky writes about her trip in a friendly, conversational manner that makes for pleasant reading. She relates her quest for the best hotel blackout curtains; relives the trials and tribulations of searching for Icelandic place names in her GPS; and laments the difficulty of locating gas stations where she could use her American, chip-and-pin-less credit card.

Stucky traveled alone, so there are relatively few other human characters in the book. In fact, the most prominent relationship in the book is that between Stucky and the land itself. From the basalt columns and black-sand beaches of Vík to the striking blue waters of Jökulsárlón, Stucky was struck by Iceland’s beauty: “I look at the Icelandic landscape and feel like I can see back in time… Wild and barren, but yet varied and vivid and burgeoning with possibility.”

Stucky’s writing shows a good sense of humor, even when she encounters difficulties along the (and often caused by the) road. With such a packed itinerary for a ten-day trip, Stucky had a lot of ground to cover, which meant she had plenty of time to identify the two primary challenges of the Ring Road: one, there are too many beautiful sights to behold and not enough places to safely pull off the road and admire them; and two, there is a scarcity of both bathrooms and trees. Besides, she had plenty of white-knuckle moments on some of the country’s windy, narrow roads: “It’s not that driving is any harder here, really, than at home; it’s that the margin for error is so much smaller,” she observes.

Perhaps the most interesting section of the book is when Stucky returns to Reykjavík and spends the day interviewing several Icelanders of note: crime fiction authors Yrsa Sigurðardóttir and Ragnar Jónasson; Akureyri Mayor Eiríkur Björn Björgvinsson, and Reykjavík Mayor Jón Gnarr. The most intriguing subject is Gnarr, who discusses his foray into publishing, his dream alternate career choices, and his views on the necessity of Icelandic optimism. Reflecting on interview day, Stucky writes, “This is the Reykjavík I’m far more interested in: the minds and souls and hearts and ideas of the people who live here; their stories, and the stories of their home.”

Stucky spent less than two weeks in Iceland, but it was more than enough time to glimpse the heart and soul of the country she set out to experience: “As I complete this odd-shaped loop around the island, I can’t help but feel the country is in me now,” she writes.

Pam on the Map: Iceland is available in paperback and ebook formats from Amazon. To connect with the author, visit pamstucky.com, find “Pam Stucky, Author” on Facebook, or follow @pamstucky on Twitter.

Originally published in the Lögberg-Heimskringla, 15 April 2014.

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