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Nanaimo author tells story of Viking stranded in the Maritimes in new book

Afiena Kamminga imagines 10th-century Cape Breton Island in ‘Unamakik, Land of Fog’
Nanaimo author Afiena Kamminga presents her latest book, ‘Unamakik, Land of Fog.’ (Photo courtesy Hans Larsen)

A Nanaimo author takes cues from the Icelandic sagas and draws from her own immigrant experience in her latest novel about a Viking woman stranded in 10th-century Atlantic Canada.

On Nov. 22 Afiena Kamminga released Unamakik, Land of Fog. It is the sequel to her 2014 book, The Sun Road, and follows Icelander Thora Thorvinnsdottir in the aftermath of an ill-fated expedition to North America in which she is left behind on the Magdalen Islands in the Gulf of St. Lawrence after her ship is wrecked and its crew – including her husband – is chased back to sea by the locals.

Thorvinnsdottir eventually finds herself on Cape Breton Island, where she gets married and attempts to integrate into the indigenous population, whom Kamminga describes as the ancestors of modern Miꞌkmaq. Viking settlers soon arrive and Thorvinnsdottir finds herself torn between both communities.

Kamminga said she wanted to bring her heroine to the Maritimes because it’s a journey she was familiar with as a Dutch immigrant to New Brunswick.

“Having gone there myself coming from Europe and being fairly familiar also with Iceland and Greenland, it sort of struck me that if these people had gone there that long ago in the medieval times, how would that have hit them?” she said.

Kamminga said she started writing Thorvinnsdottir’s story more then 20 years ago when she still lived on the East Coast. She travelled across the region, journeyed to Iceland and read the sagas in preparation for the book, but she regrets that she didn’t speak with Miꞌkmaq elders to learn more about their history while she still lived in New Brunswick.

“I would have loved to do that and I’ve tried to by e-mail and I’ve tried to make contact but that’s not how it works. You’ve really got to live there and you’ve got to go there and talk to people so I feel that it’s really a gap,” she said.

Although Vikings knew of the existence of North America, Kamminga said there is very little written about the continent in the Icelandic sagas. She therefore felt free to expand upon that history and imagine what visiting the Maritimes was like for those travellers who never made it into the sagas.

“I just tried to place myself in that time and get the full load of the wonder about this new, unexplored world, because when we come as immigrants, you know too much about it. You know more or less where you’re going,” she said. “But this is totally different.”

Unamakik, Land of Fog is available here.

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