Summer at Little Lava: A Season at the Edge of the World

ISBN 10: 0374525528 / ISBN 13: 9780374525521
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Synopsis: Little Lava is a farm on the west coast of Iceland. No roads lead to it; the way lies across a lagoon flooded twice a day by the tide. A lava field borders the farm. From the house, views give onto mountains, volcanoes, rugged coast, and the pure Icelandic sky.

In Summer at Little Lava, Charles Fergus tells how he fixed up an abandoned house on the farm and spent a summer there with his wife and their young son-living day to day in great simplicity, without heat, electricity, running water, or other conveniences. Inspired by Henry Beston's classic book, The Outermost House-about a year Beston spent living in a cottage on Cape Cod-Fergus sought a place at the outer limits of civilization, and on the coast of Iceland he found it.

As it happened, there was a sudden death in his family-the cruel, pointless murder of his mother at her home in Pennsylvania; and so, in the twilit open spaces of Iceland, Fergus confronted his grief, in the midst of the country's abundant wildlife and distinctive geology, its history and mythology. The little house on the coast became a refuge as he sought to recover himself and the meaning of his life. "Little Lava was a place where I could pass the days in peace," he tells us, "where I could take the first steps into a future that, I hoped, would not be so dimmed with grief and pain."

Summer at Little Lava is a wise and vigilant book. It touches on Iceland and Icelanders, birds and nature, tragedy and personal loss; in strong, resonant prose, it evokes the strange and compelling landscape of Iceland.

Review: Emulating The Outermost House, Henry Beston's classic narrative of a year in a Cape Cod beach house, Summer at Little Lava is a memoir of a man in retreat, seeking to delineate both his inner thoughts and the natural world around him. But instead of the Cape, Charles Fergus goes with his wife and son to the strange and wonderful country of Iceland. Here they spend the summer repairing and inhabiting Litla Hraun, or "Little Lava," a tiny house by the sea. "It seemed to me," Fergus writes, "that, at the end of the twentieth century, one needed to migrate farther from the known world, closer to the earth's conceptual rim, to find a truly fugitive setting. Iceland, to my mind, was itself an outermost house of the Western world."

In this "fugitive setting," the author grieves his mother, murdered in a robbery in Pennsylvania only a few months before his departure. This memoir, however, ultimately covers more physical than emotional terrain, as ardent naturalist Fergus takes Iceland itself, a rugged country of volcanoes and fewer than 300,000 people, as his principal subject. It is home to striking landscapes and unusual fauna: lava cones and marshlands, heaths and black-sand beaches, sea eagles and foxes and orca whales. Fergus is a careful observer; he researches and notes Icelandic history and literature, and, with the help of his wife, fluent in the language, meets and learns from its unusual inhabitants--people who live, they say, "with one foot on the land and the other in the sea." --Maria Dolan

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Title: Summer at Little Lava: A Season at the Edge ...
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