A publication of the Archaeological Institute of America
Gudrid Thorbjarnarsdottir, the heroine of Nancy Marie Brown's The Far Traveler: Voyages of a Viking Woman (Harcourt, 2007; $25), is less a biographical subject than an excuse to explore the rich world of Viking archaeology. Mentioned in two Norse sagas, Gudrid was part of the first European expedition to settle North America. She spent three years living in what is now Newfoundland and she gave birth to a son named Snorri, the first European to be born in the New World. Gudrid outlived two husbands and continued traveling late into life, eventually making a pilgrimage from her home in Iceland to Rome before dying in the early twelfth century.
Brown strikes a good balance between a novelistic narrative and hard science, but excessive detail occasionally swamps the story. Gudrid largely disappears as Brown reports on archaeological advances at sites across Viking territory. Her quest to "find" Gudrid even drives Brown to volunteer on a 2005 dig at a longhouse in northern Iceland, where the sagas say "the far traveler" and her husband settled after their last trip to North America. Not surprisingly, archaeologists are circumspect about the likelihood of the longhouse being Gudrid's: Brown gamely reports how often they try to check her enthusiasm for the literary source that inspired her journey. "You can believe it was her house if you want," one archaeologist tells her.