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Beyond the Banksters: Living Inside the Meltdown

Reviews

Beyond the Banksters: Living Inside the Meltdown

Review by Alana Odegard.

If you take anything away from this review, let it be this: You must read this book.

Now with that out of the way, let me explain a little bit more about this important must-read. Living Inside the Meltdown is a collection of interviews with “regular people” talking about their experiences relating to the Icelandic banking collapse of 2008 and the recession that has followed.

The interviews were taken from January to March 2010, making this book about as up-to- date and relevant as it gets. The book was written by Alda Sigmundsdóttir, author of the renowned blog The Iceland Weather Report, after she was commissioned to write an article about the effects of the meltdown on regular Icelanders.

In her introduction, Sigmundsdóttir explains that the interviews are “a snapshot in time,” and after reading the book, I couldn’t agree more.

The crash in Iceland has made the news across the world, but unless you or someone you know has been living here, it’s hard to wrap your mind around the extent of the fallout. Much of the coverage has been on the handful of corrupt Big Bad Banksters, and all of the asinine things they were getting up to (and away with) in the years leading up to the collapse.

Living Inside the Meltdown tells the stories of the “everyday people” who have had to pick up the pieces since October 2008, putting a human face to the headlines.

The book is made up of eight chapters, each featuring a different interview with people from varied backgrounds, providing a multifaceted account of the effects the crash has had on Icelanders.

Because this book is so very much about their personal stories, I feel it’s only appropriate to “introduce” the interviewees in order to give you an idea of everyone you’ll be hearing from.

The interviewees include:

Atli Steinn, a 35-year old student from Reykjavík who was debt free before the collapse, but whose house is now up for foreclosure.

Harpa, a 36 year-old woman who was studying in the UK at the time of the crash and found herself and her young son suddenly financially stranded, unable to access her funds when all banking transactions were frozen in the days following the collapse.

Haraldur, a 44 year-old police officer who was on-duty during the protests outside of the Icelandic parliament building in January 2009.

Gerdur and her husband Saul, both of whom moved back to Iceland from Nicaragua in 2009, after the collapse of the Icelandic government, to find a changed country from the one they had left in 2007.

Nuna and Jorge, two Portuguese men working and living in Iceland who discuss the changes they have seen within Iceland and its countrymen, pre and post-kreppa.

Tryggvi, a 75 year-old man who doesn’t hold back when speaking about what he calls the most serious thing to happen in his lifetime.

Sigrídur, the owner of a small business, who’s noticed a change in attitudes since the fall of 2008.

I am reluctant to say this is an easy read because although I was completely captivated by these people’s stories, unable to tear myself away from the text, it was an emotional and at times a very difficult experience.

Any breaks I took were to calm my breathing and overcome the ill feeling in the pit of my stomach because to read this book is to ride the proverbial emotional rollercoaster. My heart ached, my blood boiled, my eyes welled, and at times my arms were covered in goosebumps.

If you are currently living through the recession (this goes for people anywhere in the world, but in particular, in Iceland), you will be able to share in the common experience of these people’s stories.

If you want to learn more about what’s been going on here, then this is the book for you. Even if you’re on “economic crash” overload, this book goes beyond what we’ve all been hearing, the openness and honesty of the interviewees will give anyone, Icelandic or otherwise, a firsthand account of what’s been going on here.

Personally, I happened to be living in Reykjavík during the collapse and the interviews brought back things I had already forgotten about (or had perhaps suppressed).

The accounts managed to capture the tone and atmosphere here so well, that when I was reading them, many things came flooding back. For example, while reading Haraldur’s recollections of the protests (he was a police officer called into the protests), I suddenly found myself reminded of the fact that I could smell the smoke all the way to my apartment from the pallets that were being burned downtown.

I had also forgotten about that feeling of sheer and utter panic when my husband and I attempted to log on to our online banking account only to find that the transferring of all funds was prohibited.

The point is that I was here and experienced the meltdown very up close and personal, and if I’m already beginning to forget the details, it just goes to show how valuable the interviews in this book are.

Living Inside the Meltdown is unique for many reasons, one of which being that it’s an e-book. Until reading it, I was an e-book virgin. I had my doubts about whether I would like reading a book on my computer, but considering most of the reading we do is accessed through our computers (news, correspondence, entertainment, recipes) turning to our screen for books is just the next step.

I was also pleasantly surprised to find the experience somewhat “interactive,” as Sigmundsdóttir provides a few links to further information embedded right in the text which was both informative and interesting.

Being an e-book also means that there’s no need to wait for shipping. With a few clicks you can “get your hands on it” right away and begin reading it today, something I recommend you do.

The book isn’t a collection of rants, nor is it an all out sob-fest, but rather gives accounts on the same topic, the collapse, each with its own story and insight.

In fact, as down and out as some people are, many touch on the sense of hope they have for the future. This may be due to the fact that they’ve had some time to digest what’s happened, even accepted that some of what’s occurred is out of their control, allowing them to not only look back, but begin to look forward as well.

So, if it sounds like I’m really pushing you to read this book, it’s because I am. These interviews are a part of this country’s history and I’m glad that Sigmundsdóttir is making them available for the world to read.

Living Inside the Meltdown is available on Sigmundsdóttir’s blog.

Alana Odegard – [email protected]

Alana, who usually writes film reviews for Iceland Review Online, is covering for Eygló Svala Arnarsdóttir.

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