What I thought:
Once in a while a book comes along that etches into your heart. This is one of those books. I’m not sure there is anything that I can say that will do justice to this piece of gorgeousness but I’ll give it a damn good go.
Firstly, that cover! *imagine a million heart-eye emojis* Whoever says not to judge a book by its cover is wrong. I frequently pick books up because I love the cover (and often overlook those I don’t like). I love the colours and how it perfectly captures the two different worlds inhabited by the characters of The Sealwoman’s Gift.
This book was a joy from beginning to end. I found it to be a really moving tale of love, heartbreak, loss and endurance.
Iceland in 1627 and the inhabitants of a small island just off the main coast live a simple but harsh life, but a life that is nonetheless filled with family and friendships and the telling of folktales. One day, their little island is raided by Barbary pirates and hundreds of men, women and children are ripped from their homes and forced aboard a ship to be taken to a strange and hot land where they are kept as slaves. Farfetched, you may be forgiven for thinking, but this is actually based on a true story. The island Pastor, Olafur Egilsson, and his wife and children actually existed and much of the story is based on a diary that was found to have been written during the time of these events.
I love books based on true stories, especially little known historical ones. Sally Magnusson has clearly done a huge amount of research for this book and her passion for the stories of the people involved and in bringing them back to life was clear to see on every page. What I particularly love is that, despite the diaries that were found being written by the Pastor, it is Asta, his wife who is given a voice in this book. Litte is known of what happened to most of those who were taken once they reached North Africa, however some stories have survived, as remarkably a small number made it back to Iceland many years later. Women have largely been ignored or forgotten about through the passage of time, but Asta is brought back to life by Magnusson who has created a fully-fleshed character who is both feisty and humorous.
The descriptions of the land, the people, the folk tales were all so well crafted, whether it was a bleak and windswept Iceland or a vibrant and chaotic Algiers. It was quite often a surprise when I looked up from the book and realsied I was still in my own front room.
Beautiful, tender, shocking. This book really is all the feels. I absolutely loved it.
Ten seconds of fame:
I was contacted by the production team to review The Sealwoman’s Gift for Zoe Ball’s Book Club so of course, I jumped at the chance to gush about my favourite book of the year so far.
Just in case you missed it, here it is again 🙂