Book Reviews

The Sealwoman's Gift: the extraordinary book club novel of 17th century Iceland by Sally Magnusson

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List Price: £16.99

 

Hardcover: 384 Pages.

Published: 08 February 2018 by Two Roads

ISBN: 147363895X

EAN: 9781473638952

In 1627 Barbary pirates raided the coast of Iceland and abducted some 400 of its people, including 250 from a tiny island off the mainland. Among the captives sold into slavery in Algiers were the island pastor, his wife and their three children. Although the raid itself is well documented, little is known about what happened to the women and children afterwards. It was a time when women everywhere were largely silent.

In this brilliant reimagining, Sally Magnusson gives a voice to Ásta, the pastor's wife. Enslaved in an alien Arab culture Ásta meets the loss of both her freedom and her children with the one thing she has brought from home: the stories in her head. Steeped in the sagas and folk tales of her northern homeland, she finds herself experiencing not just the separations and agonies of captivity, but the reassessments that come in any age when intelligent eyes are opened to other lives, other cultures and other kinds of loving.

The Sealwoman's Gift is about the eternal power of storytelling to help us survive. The novel is full of stories - Icelandic ones told to fend off a slave-owner's advances, Arabian ones to help an old man die. And there are others, too: the stories we tell ourselves to protect our minds from what cannot otherwise be borne, the stories we need to make us happy.

Reviews

4.0 Stars4.0 Stars4.0 Stars4.0 Stars  by Debra Found

Rich in Detail

It is 1627 and hundreds of Icelandic people are torn from their homeland to become slaves in Algiers. We follow the fate of Asta, the minister's wife, and her family as they struggle for survival. Will Asta ever return to her homeland and what of little Jon born in the hold of the slave ship? He knows no life other than that of a slave boy.

The detail in this book is fantastic. The whole book is three dimensional and stands out from the page rich in the Icelandic mythology and the colours of the African city.  I could feel the cold wind almost ready to blow people from the cliff's edge and the grinding and difficult poverty on the Icelandic island. I loved the stories from the Icelandic mythology that date back far beyond the 1600s. I also enjoyed the sights, sounds and smells of the vibrant city created in Algiers. There is no doubt that the author has the ability to bring her writing to life. I also applaud the lengthy research which must have gone into this book especially as so much of it is based on fact - many of the people in this book really existed. Do take the time to read the notes in the back.

The characters are well written and three dimensional. Each one of the major characters has its own personality which in the case of Asta and her husband are really very complex. Poor old Asta torn between the homeland and husband she once knew and the warm, rich land that she has grown to love and which holds her children.

This book is a slow burner. In fact with the exception of the kidnapping of the Icelanders at the beginning there is little in the way of action. That is fine by me and I am happy to enjoy a book that takes it's time. There are one or two places where the book did start to drag. It never got to the point of me wanting to discard the book but I became hesitant to pick it up again for a day or so. This is all that stopped it being a five star read for me. There were a couple of occasions when I started to feel that we were marking time, particularly during Asta's time in slavery.

I really did enjoy this book and would be keen to read other books by this author. However, I suspect that due to the diligence she puts into her research it may be a while before we see another!

I received a free copy of this book via Netgalley.

 
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