Rolex Raiders Return to Iceland

policecar_psOne of the suspects in the robbery of watches at the store Michelsen in central Reykjavík in October 2011 was extradited to Iceland via Copenhagen last week. Two others are already in the country while the fourth remains in Poland.

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Ausländischer Tourist stirbt bei Autounfall

death-announcementsEin ausländischer Tourist um die 20 starb vorgestern morgen bei einem Autounfall, der sich auf der Straße nach Skaftártungur bei Kirkjubæjarklaustur in Südisland ereignete. Er war nur Beifahrer, als das Auto von der Straße abkam und sich östlich des Kúðafljót überschlug.

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Review: The Odd Saga of the American and a Curious Icelandic Flock

I received a copy of a little black book in the mail one day with greetings from an EE Ryan. The title read The Odd Saga of the American and a Curious Icelandic Flock and it did make me curious.

The back cover reveals that EE Ryan is the pen name of the author, who currently lives in Massachusetts, and that his story was inspired by his studies in Iceland.

The protagonist, Alex Welch, was happy to get the opportunity to study biology in Iceland for a semester abroad.

However, the experience wasn’t exactly what he had hoped for—coupled with concerns over his family and friends back home after the horrific events of September 11, 2001—and peculiar, if rather unbelievable circumstances bring his studies to an abrupt end.

The story is humorously written and the characters are interesting, such as Snorri the veterinarian who teaches Alex about the ways of Icelandic farmers, and Flaco, a mysterious Spaniard whose unpleasant demeanor is tolerated by his “friends” because he attracts the attention of women while out on the town.

EE Ryan is obviously a good storyteller who made some funny observations about Icelandic culture during his stay in the country, which certainly ring true.

I especially enjoyed his descriptions of the Icelandic countryside; of farmers who drink A LOT of black coffee and try to outdo each other when it comes to hospitality with ever-growing buffets of pastries and cakes.

Overall, I liked EE Ryan’s little tale, which (whether true or not) I took to be his publishing debut. However, it did strike me as incomplete on various levels and as such perhaps not ready for publication quite yet.

The story is short; basically a short story or a novella at best. It could, with a little more meat on the bones, either have made a good chapter in a collection of stories or, with extensive additions, a fully-fledged novel.

To me it seemed there is plenty of room to further develop the characters and storyline, perhaps peppered with some of the author’s other observations about the “curious Icelandic flock” and descriptions of the country.

I’m generally not a big fan of short stories or collections of such; telling a complete story in a span of a few pages is tricky.

It is possible, of course, and in fact I just read a collection of novellas by Kim Stanley Robinson from 1989, Escape from Kathmandu, that I can recommend (especially while traveling in Nepal).

EE Ryan did not only make me curious about his book, he also made me curious enough to want to read more about Alex Welch’s adventures. I would encourage him to continue writing.

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The book is available on amazon.com.

Eygló Svala Arnarsdóttir

What Caused the Collapse? On Thin Ice

Why did the Icelandic economy collapse? What caused the country’s ongoing financial crisis? These are questions regularly posed by readers and those which Icelanders have often asked themselves.

In On Thin Ice – A Modern Viking Saga About Corruption, Deception and the Collapse of a Nation (2011), Icelandic economist Jón F. Thoroddsen attempts to shed light on what led to the collapse of Iceland’s three largest banks in 2008.

Originally published in Icelandic as Íslenska efnahagsundrið (“The Icelandic Economic Miracle”) in 2009, this book is an expanded, revised and updated version, drawing from the author’s observations as a stockbroker in Iceland before the crash.

These include “the unhealthy relationship between the biggest pension funds and Iceland’s fast-expanding banking sector,” as Jón writes in his preface.

While I’ve never found economics to be a particularly interesting topic, Jón tries to jazz it up with humorous headings like “The New Money: An Unholy Trinity” and to simplify complicated issues as much as possible, so that a layman like myself may keep reading.

On top of that, this isn’t just any old dry fiscal report. This is the outrageous tale of the rise and fall of the young Icelandic business ‘Vikings’ who wanted to conquer the world but ended up almost bankrupting a whole nation, made possible by lax regulations and pushover authorities.

Most of this I’ve heard before, in particular in discussions following the publication of the Special Investigation Commission (SIC) report on the banking collapse in 2010, yet stories of insider trading, bribery, arrogant and impotent authorities never cease to shock.

Not to mention stories of the excessively extravagant lifestyles led by the nouveau-riche Icelanders, who competed with each other on who could get the most famous star to perform at private parties—Elton John probably topped the list—and who served the most expensive dinner; risotto garnished with gold flakes, anyone?

The book also provides an informative back story to the Icelandic political and economic climate in which the banks were privatized, an overview of the main characters involved in the collapse and a summary of the SIC reports.

I don’t know the story well enough to comment on whether important aspects may have been left out or whether the author may have alternative motives to simply enlighten readers on what went down in Iceland.

It doesn’t seem like he is taking anyone’s side, though: no banker or politician is let off the hook, members of all business and political factions are given equal bashing and various sources are consulted.

Also, I consider it a recommendation for the book’s credibility that its publication was supported by The Eva Joly Institute; I have much respect for the Norwegian-French corruption hunter who served as assistant to Iceland’s Special Prosecutor.

While the book shouldn’t be read as the absolute truth behind Iceland’s economic collapse, it is certainly a good starting point for anyone wanting to learn more about it.

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On Thin Ice – A Modern Viking Saga About Corruption, Deception and the Collapse of a Nation is available on amazon.com.

Eygló Svala Arnarsdóttir