One woman’s story as an outsider in a reindeer-herding village in the Arctic Tundra, forging a life on her own in one of the most unknowable cultures on earth
An ancestry test suggesting she shared some DNA with the Sámi people, the indigenous inhabitants of the Arctic tundra, tapped into Laura Galloway’s wanderlust; an affair with a Sámi reindeer herder ultimately led her to leave New York for the tiny town of Kautokeino, Norway. When her new boyfriend left her unexpectedly after six months, it would have been easy, and perhaps prudent, to return home. But she stayed for six years.
Dálvi is the story of Laura’s time in a reindeer-herding village in the Arctic, forging a solitary existence as she struggled to learn the language and make her way in a remote community for which there were no guidebooks or manuals for how to fit in. Her time in the North opened her to a new world. And it brought something else as well: reconciliation and peace with the traumatic events that had previously defined her – the sudden death of her mother when she was three, a difficult childhood and her lifelong search for connection and a sense of home.
Both a heart-rending memoir and a love letter to the singular landscape of the region, Dálvi explores with great warmth and humility what it means to truly belong.
Laura Galloway is a writer and communications strategist. She began her career at the Los Angeles Times and holds a Master of Arts in Indigenous Journalism from the Sámi University of Applied Sciences in Kautokeino, Norway, and a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science from the University of Southern California. An ardent animal lover, she and her partner live with her two reindeer-herding dogs and two cats.
My thoughts: after her mother dies when she’s very young, Laura’s father marries an emotionally abusive woman who rejects her husband’s children, causing Laura to spend much of her life looking for a sense of belonging, beginning with moving to LA as a teenager. And then eventually to the Arctic tundra in Norway, to live with a Sami reindeer herder in a small town near the border with Finland.
Life in the far north is tough, it’s dark for several months of the year and freezing cold. Laura doesn’t speak Norwegian or Sami and finds it hard to settle into a community so different from anything she’s ever known.
Even after her partner leaves her, she stays and starts to find her way in this strange place. There are lots of other incomers and it is with them she bonds, rather than with the Sami community, who prefer their own kind. Her cat goes missing, she gets several jobs doing things like teaching English, bonds with her neighbours and builds a life. The cat thankfully comes back.
After six years in the Arctic, she begins to wonder what else life could hold for her and looks to start afresh. But life among the Sami has taught her many lessons and helped her heal from the pain of her sad and emotionally sterile childhood.
I found this book moving and at times brutally sad, Laura has been let down badly by those who should have loved her, from her father to her ex-husband, she somehow kept going after terrible heartbreak and loss. A fascinating and rather incredible woman.
*I was kindly gifted a copy of this book in exchange for taking part in the blog tour but all opinions remain my own.