Wednesday, 8 August 2018

The Sealwoman's Gift - Sally Magnusson

What an absolute privilege and delight to read this book. An original fictional story based on a true life historical event that I certainly knew nothing about and I am grateful to have my awareness raised. 
Iceland in the seventeenth century -  Turkish pirates abduct four hundred people into slavery. Among those taken include a pastor, Olafur and his wife Asta and their children. The story is Asta’s.

What struck me about this book was how fresh and alive the writing is which almost belied the fact that it is an historical novel. It was possible almost to forget the darker, historical aspects and see it as a contemporary view of love, morality and endurance. And maybe that is the point, these qualities alter little over the passage of time.

The descriptions and atmospheres created are palpable, from the odours of the slave ship to the fragrances of Algiers. The characters are believable and accessible, their strengths and frailties forging a precarious balance through the dilemmas and heartbreaks they face. Asta dominates as indeed she should do as the main character and much of what we experience is through her eyes. But tugging at our hearts too is Olafur. The story is almost as much his as it is Asta’s. He never quite leaves the periphery of our reading. All the characters, whether major or minor have a voice, in this imaginative story and that includes the titular Sealwoman who invokes a spiritual and ethereal quality to the tale. 

Interesting to note that Olafur, the real life Olafur, did write a memoir of the events depicted in the book from his perspective which seems readily available to purchase.  Quite captivating too are the many Icelandic legends and myths liberally peppered throughout the novel elevating the book to a celebration of that almost mystical of countries  - Iceland.

I would like to thank Two Roads and Bookbridgr for the opportunity to read this book.

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