On Time and Water by Andri Snær Magnason

On Time and Water is both deeply personal and globally-minded: a travel story, a world history, and a desperate plea to live in harmony with future generations.”

This book came to me through The Miramichi Reader in part because of its author, renowned Icelandic writer Andri Snær Magnason. It seems my own research and treks around Iceland, conducted for my Gone Viking travels, are now part of my identity, Viking by association. So reviewing a quasi-fellow-countryman seemed apropos. The other reason I suspect I was asked to review Magnason’s On Time and Water is the subject matter itself, that being of vital importance and interest to me, as I believe it should be to all of us.

The publisher’s blurb for this book also struck a chord not only of interest but accountability. Conveyed through these words. “A few years ago, Andri Snær Magnason, one of Iceland’s most beloved writers and public intellectuals, was asked by a leading climate scientist why he wasn’t writing about the greatest crisis mankind has faced. Magnason demurred: he wasn’t a specialist, he said; it wasn’t his field. But the scientist persisted: ‘If you cannot understand our scientific findings and present them in an emotional, psychological, poetic or mythological context,’ he told him, ‘then no one will really understand the issue, and the world will end.’”

So, no pressure, Andri. But the fate of the planet just might rest on your authorly shoulders, or more accurately your notebook and keyboard. I re-read that passage, feeling much of its weight. Not implied but stated overtly and simply. And dare I say, accurately. We as writers have, more than ever, a responsibility to impact the world for the better. Yet I’ve grown tired of the accumulation of new titles that use “saving the planet” as an easy way to garner attention, and for some the darker element of using that banner as an excuse to travel the world, meanwhile imparting an increasing footprint and achieving exactly the opposite. Magnason’s book, however, is nothing like this. It’s much more substantive. More meaningful. Bringing facets of global concern into immediate, relatable context, presented through stories and familial experience. It’s all you could want in a memoir or textbook but in fact is narrative nonfiction.

“Based on interviews and advice from leading glacial, ocean, climate, and geographical scientists, and interwoven with personal, historical, and mythological stories, Magnason’s response is a rich and compelling work that illustrates the reality of climate change—and offers hope in the face of an uncertain future.”

Andri Snær Magnason’s On Time and Water was indeed an ideal book for me to review and one I wholeheartedly recommend. Through engaging storytelling, remarkably well-captured by translator Lytton Smith, this is one of the finest examples of writing on climate awareness I’ve had the pleasure of reading. It is, more or less, a story of one person’s family. And by extension a story of us all. Each of us here on this increasingly fragile planet. Encapsulating what that means going forward, what’s required, and how time can now be on our side.

Longlisted for the 2022 National Translation Award • Finalist for the 2021 Nordic Council Literature Prize • Winnipeg Free Press Top Read of 2021

About the Author

Andri Snær Magnason is an Icelandic writer and documentary film director who lives in Reykjavík. His book On Time and Water was a national bestseller and has been translated into more than 30 languages. He’s written novels, poetry, plays, short stories and essays and is a frequent public speaker. Andri is also the co-director of the documentary films Dreamland and The Hero’s Journey to the Third Pole.

  • Publisher: Biblioasis (March 30 2021)
  • ISBN: 978-1-948830-23-2
  • Pages: 329

Bill Arnott is the bestselling author of the Gone Viking travel memoirs (Gone Viking: A Travel SagaGone Viking II: Beyond BoundariesGone Viking III: The Holy Grail) and A Season on Vancouver Island. He’s won numerous book awards and received a Fellowship at London’s Royal Geographical Society for his expeditions. When not trekking with a small pack and journal, Bill can be found on Canada’s west coast, where he lives near the sea on Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh land.