The Sealwoman's Gift
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.

The Sealwoman's Gift Details

TitleThe Sealwoman's Gift
Author
LanguageEnglish
ReleaseFeb 8th, 2018
PublisherTwo Roads
ISBN-139781473638952
Rating
GenreHistorical, Historical Fiction, Fiction

The Sealwoman's Gift Review

  • Dem
    January 1, 1970
    A brilliant literary Novel, inspired by a true story, The Sealwoman's Gift evokes a dramatic existence in a distant time and place. Islandic History brought to life makes this a very moving, believable and enjoyable readIn 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 A brilliant literary Novel, inspired by a true story, The Sealwoman's Gift evokes a dramatic existence in a distant time and place. Islandic History brought to life makes this a very moving, believable and enjoyable readIn 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. This is a fascinating and little-known historical event that took place in not only Iceland but many other countries including Ireland back in the 1600s and I was very interested in getting my hands on a copy of this book as had heard that Sally Magunsson had written a very impressive debut novel and had listened to an interview on BBC2 where the book was discussed and I was fascinated by the premise of the story.This is a Novel that takes a little known event in history, presents the facts and imagines the lives of those families abducted and how they adapt to their new surrounding, religion and customs of the Algiers. For me this was historical fiction at its best and I was hooked from page one. I loved this Novel and the mix of fact and fiction, I loved the character of Asta and the stories of the women in the haren. A book about family separation, loss and love, a book about storytelling and a gift that lasts a lifetime. This was a terrific story extremely well executed and well researched and a book that will stay with me a long time. I think the reader should bear in mind when reading this story that it is Historical fiction and not an a history of the slaves or their lives in Algiers warts and all but a imagined account of one woman's life and her family. The Notes at the end of the book explain what is fact and what is fiction and I think readers who have enjoyed books likeBurial Rites or His Bloody Project: Documents Relating to the Case of Roderick Macrae or may well enjoy this novel as well.
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  • Fiona
    January 1, 1970
    The Scottish Icelandic Magnusson family are very well known in Scotland and the UK. Sally is a broadcaster and journalist, her father, Magnus Magnusson, was chair of Mastermind for many years and an expert on Iceland’s history and sagas. This isn’t Sally’s first book but it is her first novel. It’s based on a raid on Iceland in 1627 by Algerian and Moroccan corsairs (pirates) during the course of which many Icelanders were killed and 400 were captured to be sold as slaves in Algiers. The event i The Scottish Icelandic Magnusson family are very well known in Scotland and the UK. Sally is a broadcaster and journalist, her father, Magnus Magnusson, was chair of Mastermind for many years and an expert on Iceland’s history and sagas. This isn’t Sally’s first book but it is her first novel. It’s based on a raid on Iceland in 1627 by Algerian and Moroccan corsairs (pirates) during the course of which many Icelanders were killed and 400 were captured to be sold as slaves in Algiers. The event is considered one of the most traumatic in Icelandic history.Asta and Olafur (a Lutheran priest) and two of their three children are amongst those taken. She gives birth to another child at sea. On arrival in Algiers, the couple are bought by a wealthy man, Cilleby, who also takes the two smallest children. Egill, their older son, is purchased by the pasha, who was known for his taste in young boys so what remained of Egill’s childhood was probably very difficult. Asta and the children are taken to Cilleby’s main residence. Olafur is kept separately and after a while is sent to Copenhagen to ask the Danish king (Iceland was under Danish rule) for a ransom to free the captives. It would be many years before this was achieved and few were ever to return home to Iceland.This is a book about stories and their role in our lives. The Icelandic sagas were a source of comfort to Asta and were to prove useful in her relationship with Cilleby, just as the other women of the household enjoyed listening to the tales of Scheherazade in the evenings. It’s about the stories we tell ourselves and each other to keep our spirits up during difficult times. Asta was able to transport herself back to Iceland by imagining what she would be seeing and feeling, smelling and touching. It’s about love and separation - ‘Is it by the wanting that we measure love or is it something else?’ It’s about the choices people make when their lives are changed forever and they have to find a way to survive. It’s about the judgements of others who cannot imagine what they would have done in the same situation but are quick to condemn.This is a very well researched historical novel as the Author’s Note at the end explains but it never gets bogged down by detail. It is first and foremost a story and it’s very well told. I was frustrated when I had to stop reading it and took every opportunity to get back to it. The pace is perfect and I found it a real page turner.4.5-5 stars and I’m really looking forward to her second novel. With thanks to NetGalley and Two Roads/John Murray Publishers for a review copy.Aside: when I was living in London in the early 80s, Sally Magnusson was a newsreader on, I think, LWT. One night, she was finishing with a piece on the Edinburgh Festival. Sally, who grew up in Glasgow, read the piece and then went off script to say, “Why is there such a fuss over a piddling little festival in Edinburgh that only lasts three weeks? Glasgow is home to both national orchestras (the Royal Scottish National Orchestra and the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra), to the national opera company (Scottish Opera) and ballet (Scottish Ballet), The Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama (now Royal Conservatoire), one of the most esteemed art schools (Glasgow Art School) and one of the most admired theatre companies in the UK (the Citizens Theatre). Edinburgh has three short weeks. Pfffff!” She then smiled to the camera and said ‘Have a good evening’, cool as you like. I loved her for that. She made my day! Everyone knows the best thing to come out of Edinburgh is the Glasgow train! ;-)
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  • Eric Anderson
    January 1, 1970
    There’s something so wonderful about being wholly drawn into a richly imagined historical novel that both illuminates a somewhat forgotten or not-widely-known period of history and gives voice to people who are only glancingly referred to in the history books. Sally Magnusson does all this in her debut novel “The Sealwoman’s Gift” which recounts the abduction of over four hundred Icelandic citizens from their homes in the year 1627 by pirates from Morocco and Algeria. These prisoners were sold i There’s something so wonderful about being wholly drawn into a richly imagined historical novel that both illuminates a somewhat forgotten or not-widely-known period of history and gives voice to people who are only glancingly referred to in the history books. Sally Magnusson does all this in her debut novel “The Sealwoman’s Gift” which recounts the abduction of over four hundred Icelandic citizens from their homes in the year 1627 by pirates from Morocco and Algeria. These prisoners were sold into slavery and a ransom for their release wasn’t obtained until several years later – by which point many of those abducted had either died, been irretrievably lost or converted/integrated into life along the Barbary Coast. Copies still exist of a famous account of these abductions written by a Reverend who was captured himself, but Magnusson focuses her novel more on the journey and inner-struggles of his wife Ásta. It’s noted how “others may have written their own accounts of captivity. Men, of course. Does it matter that nobody will know how it was to be a woman?” In doing so, this novel brilliantly engages with many of the heartrending conflicts a woman in Ásta’s position must have faced while also powerfully illuminating the cultural importance of storytelling and the complicated dynamics of love.Read my full review of The Sealwoman’s Gift by Sally Magnusson on LonesomeReader
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  • Claire McAlpine
    January 1, 1970
    Described as The Turkish Raid or Tyrkjaránið, the inspiration for the novel is based on the invasion of Iceland in 1627 by pirates from Algeria and Morocco, also known as Barbary pirates (a reference to the Barbary coast, a term used by Europeans in the 16th century, referring to the coastal aspect of the collective lands of the Berber people of North Africa). They were lead by the ambitious and cunning Dutch captain Jan Janszoon van Haarlem, commonly known as Murat Reis the Younger, himself cap Described as The Turkish Raid or Tyrkjaránið, the inspiration for the novel is based on the invasion of Iceland in 1627 by pirates from Algeria and Morocco, also known as Barbary pirates (a reference to the Barbary coast, a term used by Europeans in the 16th century, referring to the coastal aspect of the collective lands of the Berber people of North Africa). They were lead by the ambitious and cunning Dutch captain Jan Janszoon van Haarlem, commonly known as Murat Reis the Younger, himself captured and "turned Turk".They were referred to as Turks, as Algeria was then part of the expansive Ottoman Empire. Icelandic villagers were abducted, and taken by ship to be sold as slaves in Algiers, a request for a ransom was made to the Danish King, and a few would make it back home.Relative to its size, Iceland the furthest north the corsairs reached, was hit particularly hard. To lose four hundred people out of a population of around forty thousand - including most of the island of Heimaey - is by any standards a stupendous national tragedy, particularly for what was at the time the poorest country in Europe. That may be one reason why Iceland has kept painfully in its collective psyche what has largely faded from the memory of other affected nations. It may also be down to the Icelandic compulsion to write. Voluminous historical narratives were written afterwards and copied by hand. It was felt important that the nation's great trauma should be understood and never forgotten.The Sealwoman's Gift follows one family, Ólafur the local pastor, his relatively younger wife Asta and two of their children, all of whom are abducted, the mother due to give birth, which she does on the ship. Initially Ólafur is herded onto a different ship, perhaps due to his advanced age, however he manages to fight his way to his wife and children, allowed to do so while others are struck down for such defiance, when his ability to calm the captives is noted by the Captain.They voyage across the sea to Algiers where their fate awaits them. While on the ship, one of the islanders Oddrún - affectionately referred to as the sealwoman, due to her insistent belief that she was a seal who came ashore and had her sealskin stolen, forcing her to remain human - has a dream, another shared prophecy, words that are usually ignored, but given their predicament and desire for escape, are this time listened to attentively.'I have seen Ólafur in a great palace. He is kneeling before the king.'It's not possible to write too much about what happens without spoiling the discovery for the reader, suffice to say that poverty-stricken conservative Christian Icelanders arriving in the warm, lush climate of Algiers, where, although they are enslaved, many will live in ways less harsh than what they have experienced in freedom, and children will be both born and grow up within a culture and religion unlike their home country, one that some will embrace, others will defy, awaiting the response of their king to the request for a ransom.Those that return, in turn, face the dilemma of reacclimatising to their culture and way of life, so different to what they have experienced, the memories of their time of enslavement never far from their thoughts and the judgments of those who were not caught felt in a wayward glance.How could she have forgotten, how could she possibly not have remembered, what it is like to live for month after month with only a few watery hours of light a day,  with cold that seeps into your bones and feet that are always wet? Is it conceivable that she never noticed before how foul the habits are here?...Can she not have noticed how the turf walls bend in on you and bear down on you until you are desperate to break out and breathe again? Only there is no roof to escape to here but just gabled grass, and the wind would toss you off it anyway if it did not freeze you first. To think she spent more than thirty winters in a house like this, yet only now is oppressed by the way the stinking fulmar oil in the lamp mingles with the stench of the animals and the meat smoking over the kitchen fire and the ripe sealskin jackets on their hook, making her sick with longing for the tang of mint and cumin and an atrium open to the sky.While much of the Reverend Ólafur Egillson's story is known from journals he kept, that have been transcribed and translated and kept his story and that of the islanders alive, not much is known of the fate of his wife Asta while she was captive, an interlude that the author immerses herself in through the imagination. A fragment of engraved stone is all that remains to commemorate the life of this woman who lived an extraordinary life, the details of which she took with her to the grave.'History can tell us no more than it does about any woman of the time in Iceland or anywhere else, unless she happened to be a queen.'Overall, this story provides a thrilling depiction of the terror of a pirate invasion that changed the lives of 400 islanders from Iceland, their journey across seas to Algiers, the slave markets and fates of those who survived, their children and an imagining of how they may have coped as they watched their youth grow up and become part of another culture and way of life, while older Icelanders struggled with what they retained within them of their past and the changes that would envelope them in the years that followed, in a strange new land, one that despite their suffering, also offered opportunities they would never have encountered at home.
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  • Maria Chnoic
    January 1, 1970
    “It was one of those morning when the winds breaths the scent of cut grass and the sea winkles like an old man’s hand. When you can see nearly all the islands dozing for miles around in the clear light.”I originally read this on audible but loved it so much I picked up a hardcopy today so I can reread it. The premise is based on a true story. In 1627 Barbary Pirates abducted 400 people from a remote island in Christian Iceland and sold them into slavery in Muslim Algiers. This is the imagined st “It was one of those morning when the winds breaths the scent of cut grass and the sea winkles like an old man’s hand. When you can see nearly all the islands dozing for miles around in the clear light.”I originally read this on audible but loved it so much I picked up a hardcopy today so I can reread it. The premise is based on a true story. In 1627 Barbary Pirates abducted 400 people from a remote island in Christian Iceland and sold them into slavery in Muslim Algiers. This is the imagined story of one of the slaves, Ásta, a pastors wife, who must raise her children alone in a dry, hot Muslim world so different from her remote island home. All she has of her homeland are her Icelandic legends and stories. This novel is about family separation, immigration, what makes a land your home, how and why we love and the importance of stories in our lives. Recommended to people who enjoyed historical fictions such as Burial Rites and The Snow Child
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  • Siria
    January 1, 1970
    In 1627, pirates from North Africa raided coastal settlements in Iceland, carrying away with them a substantial proportion of the island's population to be sold in the slave markets of Algiers. One of the prisoners, a priest called Ólafur, was sent back to arrange—unsuccessfully—for the ransom of his parishioners. He wrote an account of his experiences which Sally Magnusson drew upon to create this, her debut novel. Magnusson has picked a fascinating event to write about, particularly since she In 1627, pirates from North Africa raided coastal settlements in Iceland, carrying away with them a substantial proportion of the island's population to be sold in the slave markets of Algiers. One of the prisoners, a priest called Ólafur, was sent back to arrange—unsuccessfully—for the ransom of his parishioners. He wrote an account of his experiences which Sally Magnusson drew upon to create this, her debut novel. Magnusson has picked a fascinating event to write about, particularly since she chose to write mostly from the perspective of Ólafur's wife, Ásta, about whom we know almost nothing but who spent the best part of a decade in captivity. She clearly did her due diligence in research, and you can see Magnusson striving to describe the contrasts between the chilly poverty of life in a small Icelandic village with the warm opulence of a wealthy merchant's townhouse in north Africa. However, it all felt a bit laboured. The pacing is rough, the occasional hints at mythical/magical realism elements are out of place, there's lots of telling-not-showing, and frankly I found Magnusson's representation of slavery and the experiences of enslaved people to make for increasingly uncomfortable reading as the novel progressed. Is it possible for there to be a complicated, fraught, emotional relationship between an enslaved woman and the man who owns her, who threatens her with sexual violence and who sells her children away from her forever? Yes. Is it possible for a read to be uncomfortable without being distasteful—to ask a reader to face up to difficult issues without being vulgar or maudlin? Yes. But Magnusson's writing doesn't have the depth needed to sell the relationship she posits between Ásta and Cilleby as believable, and so she falls back on stale, shallow tropes: the blonde, feisty woman from Iceland who is seduced into pleasure on a silk mattress by a blue-eyed, half-Dutch Moor. As the book progressed, I felt ever more like I was reading a slightly more high-minded version of one of those awful orientalising Mills and Boons novels—which is a shame, because undoubtedly those hundreds of people stolen away from their homes and families deserved much more than a historical installment in a Desert Sheikh bodice-ripper.
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  • Lady R
    January 1, 1970
    Hmmmm..... I didn’t get the hype with this one. There is no doubt Magnusson writes beautifully about the Icelandic landscape & the first 100 pages or so of this novel were wonderful.After that it read a bit more like a memoir or biography of Asta and I felt the remaining characters were never fully bought to life.Also the romantic element became a bit too chick-lit like for me! A good debut but I was hoping for more after reading all the reviews....
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  • Steph
    January 1, 1970
    This is a fictionalised account of a real-life historical event in the 1600s when hundreds of people in Iceland were killed by pirates or captured and taken as slaves. The story is told from the perspective of the wife of a priest from a small southern island. (As a disclaimer I should admit that since visiting several years ago, I’m a keen enthusiast for contemporary books set in Iceland. It’s an amazing place.)Despite being set in different countries and different centuries, this story reminde This is a fictionalised account of a real-life historical event in the 1600s when hundreds of people in Iceland were killed by pirates or captured and taken as slaves. The story is told from the perspective of the wife of a priest from a small southern island. (As a disclaimer I should admit that since visiting several years ago, I’m a keen enthusiast for contemporary books set in Iceland. It’s an amazing place.)Despite being set in different countries and different centuries, this story reminded me of the Good People by Hannah Kent. The heavy mood created by the cold foggy landscape, the intensity of small-town social relationships, the theme of loss and grief, the role of women in Europe several centuries ago, and the tension between Christianity and pagan mythology - both of which are tightly bound in culture - are all parallels. However, while the Good People causes readers to feel increasing heaviness and despair as the characters get more and more trapped, the Sealwoman’s Gift has times of lightness and resolution. Both book embrace the complexity of real people and societies but with this I came out feeling like I had greater insight into humanity, rather than feeling distressed for humankind. Also after reading several novels in a row that seemed self-important and irritatingly meandering, this novel seemed very well-considered. Careful thought has been given to what information to include, and when or how to reveal new information. It feels like the work of an experienced author who is focussed on creating something for her audience rather than herself. I’ve also recently read books that try to weave mythology into a new narrative, but it can feel forced or dull. In this book, it’s cleverly inter-twined so that the sagas add new dimensions and twists to the primary narrative rather than being a distraction or coming across as pretentious waffle.Finally, the amount of research that must have gone into this novel must have been enormous. For those who like historical fiction, I highly recommend this book.
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  • Jennifer (JC-S)
    January 1, 1970
    ‘It was a fine morning. That she will always remember – how lovely dawned the seventeenth day of July in the year 1627, the day the pirates came .’ Within a matter of a few days, Barbary pirates abducted some 400 people from Iceland, including 250 (almost the entire population) from the small island of Heimaey. Among the captives sold into slavery in Algiers, were the pastor of Heimaey, Ólafur Egilsson, his wife Ásta Thorsteinsdóttir and three of their children. The raid itself is well documente ‘It was a fine morning. That she will always remember – how lovely dawned the seventeenth day of July in the year 1627, the day the pirates came .’ Within a matter of a few days, Barbary pirates abducted some 400 people from Iceland, including 250 (almost the entire population) from the small island of Heimaey. Among the captives sold into slavery in Algiers, were the pastor of Heimaey, Ólafur Egilsson, his wife Ásta Thorsteinsdóttir and three of their children. The raid itself is well documented, but little is known about what happened to the women and children afterwards. Women’s voices were rarely heard, their accounts of events seldom included in historical records.In this, her first novel, Ms Magnusson has given Ásta a voice. Imagine: a heavily pregnant woman captured with her husband and two of her three children. She gives birth to her fourth child at sea. Ásta, Ólafur and their two youngest children are sold to a wealthy man in Algiers, Ali Pitterling Cilleby. Their older son Egill, is purchased by the pasha who is known to have a taste for small boys. Ásta and Ólafur are kept separately. After a while Ólafur is sent to Copenhagen to ask the Danish king (Iceland was under Danish rule) to ransom the captives.Ásta has lost her freedom, her children, and her husband. How will she survive in this very alien culture? She is waiting to hear about the ransom, hoping to see her elder son, wanting to hold onto what she values from her own culture. Ásta has the stories, the sagas and folktales of Iceland in her head, and the opportunity to share those stories with Cilleby arises. The years pass without news from Iceland. And then, just as Ásta becomes more accustomed to her new life, news that a ransom is to be paid for some of the Icelanders is received. She is told only after the envoy has been in the city for some months.‘She will not ask why he did not tell her this before. This is only the news some slave-woman in his house has been waiting nearly nine years to hear.’ Ásta must choose: to return to Iceland, leaving her children behind or to stay in Algiers. She doesn’t know whether her husband is still alive. She is not even sure that she wants to leave, but she feels that she must. And, for the rest of her long life she will wonder about how her life might have been had she chosen to stay.This is a novel about survival and about the power of stories in our lives. It’s also a story about contrasting life styles and difficult choices. In Algiers, Ásta’s stories could transport her back to the Iceland of her memory, helped her bear separation from her husband and children. But the Ásta who returned to Iceland some nine years later was forever changed by her experiences in Algiers. Those stories have their own place.‘Thus does Ásta Thorsteinsdóttir discover that there is more than one way to make a bed of stories.’I enjoyed this novel very much, and appreciated the Author’s Note at the end which explained how Ólafur Egilsson’s manuscript (The Travels of Ólafur Egilsson) led Ms Magnusson to wonder about his wife Ásta:‘But who was she, this woman who gave birth on a slave-ship and returned ten years later without her children?’ ‘But what happened to Ásta in Algiers and after she returned to Iceland?’Ms Magnusson’s wondering has delivered a powerful novel. Highly recommended.Jennifer Cameron-Smith
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  • Victoria (Eve's Alexandria)
    January 1, 1970
    I have a thing for Iceland and a thing for pirates, so this surprisingly fluent and moving historical novel had me at hello. It opens in the spring of 1628 when nearly 400 Icelanders from the remote Western Isles are kidnapped by the renowned Algerine pirate Murat Reis. Dozens of others are murdered during the brutal and unprecedented raid. Amongst the taken are priest Olafur Egilson, his wife Asta Thorsteinsdottir and two of their children, 11 year old Egill and three year old Marta. Heavily pr I have a thing for Iceland and a thing for pirates, so this surprisingly fluent and moving historical novel had me at hello. It opens in the spring of 1628 when nearly 400 Icelanders from the remote Western Isles are kidnapped by the renowned Algerine pirate Murat Reis. Dozens of others are murdered during the brutal and unprecedented raid. Amongst the taken are priest Olafur Egilson, his wife Asta Thorsteinsdottir and two of their children, 11 year old Egill and three year old Marta. Heavily pregnant Asta gives birth to a third child, Jon, in the dank crowded hold of the slavers ship.It’s a captivating beginning, tightly and atmospherically told in a complicated structure of flash back and changed perspective. You would be excused for thinking that what follows will be an adventure story, but that’s not the style of Magnusson’s debut at all. Instead it is a moving account of Olafur and Asta’s response to their varied fates: Olafur almost immediately released to go and beg for ransom for his fellow slaves from the Danish King, and Asta sold into the household of a prodigiously rich Moor, Ali Pitterling Cilleby. Both are separated from home, family and the strict religious belief that has previously shaped their lives. Asta emerges from this as a powerful and enigmatic personality, driven by her cultural identity and love of the Icelandic sagas. The novel is based on a true story, passed down to us in the biography that Olafur Egilson wrote about his own experiences. Asta is almost entirely missing from that narrative (what a big surprise) but here Magnusson writes her back in to history as a fierce and imaginative survivor. Love is at the centre of the story, in one way or another and in all its various guises. It almost, at times, tips over into the sentimental but the atmosphere, historical delicacy and subtlety that come with it make it somehow acceptable. It reminds me powerfully in this sense of another novel of the emotions that I loved, Witch Light by Susan Fletcher. I would certainly recommend this to all readers of historical fiction.
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  • Noa
    January 1, 1970
    I know it's tempting to click on the "show spoilers" thingy which is why I'm warning you again. If you ever want to read this control yourself people.I think this book was so well-crafted and beautifully written (especially if you check out the author's note at the end. The history was palpable and every character felt to me as if this story could have focused on them and it would not have been any less of a story because of it. Every controversial aspect of this book was made understandable fro I know it's tempting to click on the "show spoilers" thingy which is why I'm warning you again. If you ever want to read this control yourself people.I think this book was so well-crafted and beautifully written (especially if you check out the author's note at the end. The history was palpable and every character felt to me as if this story could have focused on them and it would not have been any less of a story because of it. Every controversial aspect of this book was made understandable from both sides and the motherly love convinced even me. I wasn't a fan of the romance. Not because I didn't agree with the main characters choices (I didn't, but who am I to judge) because I love it when authors take this sort of risk. Every aspect of the relationship with Cilleby was wrong and controversial and complex and Ásta was never allowed to forget that. I wasn't a fan of it because it was the one part of the novel I didn't believe. Their connection felt more like fond rivalry to me, I just couldn't believe the 'sudden and unavoidable love for your slave trader who sold your children'-thing.Maybe my appreciation will grow even higher as it has time to sink in, but for now I think it is safe to say this was at once a fairy tale and a historically accurate fiction and I think that is exactly what this book set out to achieve.
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  • Emma
    January 1, 1970
    First of all, I'd like to thank Netgalley and the publisher for providing me with an ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.The Sealwoman’s Gift is an absolute gem of an historical novel, and evokes the atmosphere, struggles and joys of a bygone era with rare elegance and authenticity. It is clearly a labour of painstakingly researched love - in fact, I was astounded to realise just how much of the novel was based on pure historical fact when reading the author’s note at the end - whi First of all, I'd like to thank Netgalley and the publisher for providing me with an ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.The Sealwoman’s Gift is an absolute gem of an historical novel, and evokes the atmosphere, struggles and joys of a bygone era with rare elegance and authenticity. It is clearly a labour of painstakingly researched love - in fact, I was astounded to realise just how much of the novel was based on pure historical fact when reading the author’s note at the end - which makes the fact that this novel deliberately sets out to give a voice to those who have been almost entirely erased from history even more poignant. This is always one of my absolute favourite kinds of fiction, and this novel pulls it off beautifully. It tells the story of Ásta, an Icelandic woman who really was kidnapped from her remote island and sold into slavery in Algiers in the early 17th century - but of whom almost nothing else is known, even though her husband Ólafur’s book about the raid is the most comprehensive surviving historical account of the event. This novel takes it upon itself to fill in the gaps in the historical narrative, painting a vivid picture of some of the women and children that male authors throughout history never thought worth mentioning in detail.One of the novel’s great strengths is the life it breathes into everything. Ásta is a marvellous protagonist, brimming with life, wit and heart, and I was surprised by how much I came to care about Ólafur, too. He’s not the kind of character I usually warm to, but his compassion, curiosity, gentleness, and the gradual softening of his stern principles eventually won me over. I also found the relationship between them very compelling, as were Ásta’s relationships with all of her children, all of which were beautifully nuanced and different. Honestly, that’s a particularly impressive feat, because I tend to find it very difficult to relate to fictional depictions of motherhood.However, I really felt that most of the other characters who appeared in the chapters set in Algiers could have been fleshed out a bit more - even the ones who were focused on most heavily never felt particularly compelling to me. This section - which takes up a considerable chunk of the novel - does a wonderful job of conveying the culture shock Ásta is experiencing, and there is a lot to be said for the way it portrays the agony of loss and the turmoil of doubt and guilt. However, the narrative always seemed a little bit more detached in these chapters, which I think was maybe a deliberate choice on the author’s part to reflect the feeling of alienation that comes with being uprooted from one’s home so violently (or I may have been imagining it, because I admittedly didn’t have as much free time while I was reading that section, so I mostly got through it in tiny bursts when I had a few moments to spare). Whatever the reason, I just didn’t feel as emotionally connected to those chapters and the characters they focused on, which is the main reason I knocked a star off this review (as well as the way the narrative often switched perspective from one paragraph to the next, which is a style I’m REALLY not fond of).However, that’s my only major criticism! For the most part, I found the characters and their relationships highly compelling, the plot well-paced, and the setting gorgeously rendered. It almost feels as though you could step into 17th-century Iceland or Algiers at any moment - I absolutely adored how much this novel felt like a window into the past. Plus, I was tremendously moved by the last few chapters of the novel, which more than made up for any emotional distance in the earlier chapters.Also, I’m not usually a fan of novels which feature religion as a major theme, but the way it was explored here was nothing short of wonderful, focusing on the little concessions and doubts that creep into everyone’s mind over the course of their lives and showing all the ways that different belief systems can be alike, compatible, overlapping, and yet distinct, and what that means for the people who find themselves caught between two or even three worlds (or who simply care about other people whose beliefs don’t quite match up with their own). It could maybe be best summed up as an unpretentious exploration of what personal faith means, and I found it surprisingly lovely.Of course, that goes hand in hand with one of my all-time favourite themes - the power and importance of stories (and, in this case, the extent to which they can coexist with religious doctrine). Folklore and memory are the cornerstone of this novel, which revolves around the ways that all of our lives are built on stories and draw on our own histories, while also reminding us just how many people have been erased from those narratives.And finally, I just want to say that I was utterly charmed by the way the story incorporated elements of fantasy; normally I find it immensely irritating when they’re used sparingly, because it often feels like the author is afraid of committing to the story they really want to tell (and, sidenote, the main criterion I use when rating a book is “how close I think it comes to being the book it’s trying to be”), but in this case, the little touches of magic around the edges felt perfect. In the end, this isn’t a story about magic: it’s a story about finding your own understanding of the world, and it just so happens that this novel’s understanding of the world includes a sprinkling of myth and magic.
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  • Helen White
    January 1, 1970
    A fictionalised version of the Turkish raid on Iceland this tells the story of Asta, wife of an island priest who is stolen and taken to Algiers along with her husband and children. The story emphasises the differences between landscape and culture and religion throwing the characters into turmoil. A good read.
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  • The Book Whisperer (aka Boof)
    January 1, 1970
    My favourite book of 2018 so far. Perfection! Review to follow.
  • Sky
    January 1, 1970
    I read this in one day. I couldn’t put it down. I had to know what happened to Ásta and Olafur and their family and it broke my heart. I think reading it all in one sitting made the pain harder but I’m not sure. This novel is about the faith of a woman, a family, a community. Ásta is the wife of Olafur, a reverend: so, we see a lot of ideas about the faith in Christ and god or sometimes the faith in Allah. This book is more than just about the faith in religion. It is about the faith in yourself I read this in one day. I couldn’t put it down. I had to know what happened to Ásta and Olafur and their family and it broke my heart. I think reading it all in one sitting made the pain harder but I’m not sure. This novel is about the faith of a woman, a family, a community. Ásta is the wife of Olafur, a reverend: so, we see a lot of ideas about the faith in Christ and god or sometimes the faith in Allah. This book is more than just about the faith in religion. It is about the faith in yourself, family, country, community and love. The novel is based on a fictionalised event, but Magnusson has done her historical research and she writes about this time and these real people with clarity. If you like historical fiction that is accurate as can be, read this. The fictional embellishment is tasteful and fit for each situation. It’s realistic and that is the pain and excellence in this work. The characterisation is outstanding. These people were real, and Magnusson does them a great service by giving them a second chance to tell their story. My favourite was Olafur. His determination and apparently unwavering faith and love for his wife was heart wrenching and comforting at the same time. Each character though, is multi-dimensional and I come away from this story feeling like I have a greater understanding and insight to humanity. The weaving of Icelandic mythology into this was very fluid and not forced like other novels. Sally cleverly inserts it so that these stories entwine with the present plot and it gives a new dimension to the story and meanings. I write this with a lump in my throat. I won’t say the conclusion was happy or sad because I’m not certain it was either, but this novel was tragic, and I still feel grief. I’m hoping that writing about it will make me feel better. It is astounding that this novel has made me feel this upset. I finished it at 5am and couldn’t sleep. I went outside to calm myself and reflect but it didn’t help much either. This story, the lives of these people will weight heavy on my thoughts for a long time coming. And I think that is one of the points. Magnusson wrote this to give a voice to Ásta. She did that and more, giving a voice to that community. I will not forget Ásta and her strength. Or Olafar and his dedication. Or Egill and his bravery. Or Marta and her kindness. Or Jón and his joy. These were real people who were lost to time and tragedy and I will not forget them, and I doubt anybody who reads this book will have the strength to either.
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  • Helen
    January 1, 1970
    This is a beautiful, moving novel based on a little known historical event: the 1627 raid by Barbary pirates on Iceland’s Westman Islands. Around four hundred Icelanders were taken in captivity to Algiers to be sold at the slave markets, among them the priest Ólafur Egilsson, his pregnant wife Ásta Thórsteinsdottir, and two of their children. We know from historical records that Ólafur was released and sent to Denmark to petition the Danish king (Iceland’s ruler in those days) in the hope that h This is a beautiful, moving novel based on a little known historical event: the 1627 raid by Barbary pirates on Iceland’s Westman Islands. Around four hundred Icelanders were taken in captivity to Algiers to be sold at the slave markets, among them the priest Ólafur Egilsson, his pregnant wife Ásta Thórsteinsdottir, and two of their children. We know from historical records that Ólafur was released and sent to Denmark to petition the Danish king (Iceland’s ruler in those days) in the hope that he would provide the ransom to free his subjects. His story was preserved in a memoir describing his capture and the voyage there and back, but the story of Ásta, who was not allowed to accompany him on the journey home, has been lost to history.In The Sealwoman’s Gift, Sally Magnusson has given a voice to Ásta, a woman who, like so many others in centuries gone by, has been ignored and forgotten by history. As we know little or nothing about what happened to Ásta and the other women and children after their arrival on the shores of Algeria, this gives the author the freedom to create an interesting, realistic and believable story to fill in the gaps. She writes with sensitivity and understanding as she describes Ásta’s pain at being separated from her husband and children, her changing feelings for the man who buys her – Ali Pitterling Cilleby – and the agonising decision she eventually has to make.There’s a lot for Ásta to adjust to in her new life; Algeria and Iceland couldn’t be more different, with very different climates, customs, foods, languages and religions. The religious difference is one of the most difficult for Ásta to accept – as the wife of a Lutheran minister, the possibility of her children having to convert to Islam is not easy for her to come to terms with. We also follow Ólafur on his return to Heimaey in the Westman Islands and see both the short-term and long-term effects the raids have had on the community. With such a small population to begin with, the loss of several hundred of their people has a big impact; it seems that almost everyone has lost a husband or wife, a child or a parent or a friend.Iceland has a strong tradition of storytelling and some of these myths, legends and sagas are woven into the novel as Ásta finds some solace in remembering the stories of her homeland and narrating them to her master and his wives. This is another aspect of the book that I liked; you can learn a lot about a country from its stories and its folklore.Sally Magnusson (who is the daughter of the television presenter Magnus Magnusson) has previously written several non-fiction books, but this seems to be her first novel. I liked her writing, apart from the fact that she chose to write in the present tense. I’m really not a fan of present tense and in this case I found it distracting and distancing, which I’m sure is not what the author intended. It’s down to personal taste, I suppose – you either have a problem with it or you don’t. I also thought that, while Ásta, Ólafur and the other Icelandic people are strong, interesting characters, the characters they meet in Algiers feel less well developed. If I’d had a stronger feeling for Cilleby, for example, as a person, I think I would have found the later stages of the story even more emotional.These are just small criticisms and, as I’ve said, are probably just due to my tastes as a reader rather than the book itself, which is getting great reviews and really is a fascinating read.
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  • Kali Napier
    January 1, 1970
    This was an astonishing story. Set in Iceland and Algiers, this tells the true story of a corsair raid on some small islands to the west of Iceland, and the capture of 400 Icelanders who were sold into slavery in Algiers in the early 17th century. Asta, the main character is separated, first from her husband, and then from each of her four children over ten years in captivity, as she has to grapple with moral dilemmas of faith and who to let go of. What I loved most was that these questions made This was an astonishing story. Set in Iceland and Algiers, this tells the true story of a corsair raid on some small islands to the west of Iceland, and the capture of 400 Icelanders who were sold into slavery in Algiers in the early 17th century. Asta, the main character is separated, first from her husband, and then from each of her four children over ten years in captivity, as she has to grapple with moral dilemmas of faith and who to let go of. What I loved most was that these questions made me think, what would I do in this situation? I cried and would gladly climb back into this story. The only criticism I have is the head hopping throughout made reading occasionally confusing.
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  • Rachel
    January 1, 1970
    This is such a beautiful book about something that is so traumatic and heart-wrenching. It feels almost wrong to admit just how much I enjoyed reading The Sealwoman's Gift. But I did. I devoured every page and I couldn't put it down for the world. It was just that good.
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  • Sarah Broadhead
    January 1, 1970
    An amazing book with such evocative writing. Slow to start but I was gradually led into the writers world of pirates, slaves and the life for them once they have been sold in a foreign country totally different in every way from where they have come from in Iceland. Highly recommended.
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  • Helen Carolan
    January 1, 1970
    Oh my god!!! There are no words to describe how totally beautiful this book is. Based on a true story, set in Iceland, it tells of a group of Icelanders who were taken as captive slaves to Algiers. It's told from the viewpoint of the vicar's wife. Her whole life was destroyed as one by one her husband and 3 children were taken from her.As time passes she learns to adapt but still misses her native home and uses the folk-tales of Iceland as a way to keep her memories alive. But when freedom comes Oh my god!!! There are no words to describe how totally beautiful this book is. Based on a true story, set in Iceland, it tells of a group of Icelanders who were taken as captive slaves to Algiers. It's told from the viewpoint of the vicar's wife. Her whole life was destroyed as one by one her husband and 3 children were taken from her.As time passes she learns to adapt but still misses her native home and uses the folk-tales of Iceland as a way to keep her memories alive. But when freedom comes is it what she wants? Beautifully written and heart-breaking this is a terrific read.
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  • David Crowe
    January 1, 1970
    A beautiful lyrical book that left me in tears at the end. Tears for the beauty of the story less than sadness of the content. A dollop of cracking story, Icelandic myths, a strong and fierce central character and the dilemmas we face as humans in our lives=an emotional rollercoaster that was such a good read
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  • Elizabeth Moffat
    January 1, 1970
    The Sealwoman's Gift had been on my radar for a little while after I saw it being advertised as a highly anticipated read for this year from some of my favourite book-tubers. I mean, that gorgeous cover is enough to draw you in and make you want to read it, right? Then when I found out that it was a re-imagining of an actual historical event that happened in Iceland in the 17th century which tore apart countless families, I knew it was something I had to get my hands on. I am trying to be good a The Sealwoman's Gift had been on my radar for a little while after I saw it being advertised as a highly anticipated read for this year from some of my favourite book-tubers. I mean, that gorgeous cover is enough to draw you in and make you want to read it, right? Then when I found out that it was a re-imagining of an actual historical event that happened in Iceland in the 17th century which tore apart countless families, I knew it was something I had to get my hands on. I am trying to be good at the moment with a book-buying ban and a determination not to buy hardbacks on the cards, so I was delighted when Two Roads Publishers via Book Bridgr sent me a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. It came at a time when I really needed cheering up so a huge thank you to them. Generally, I found this novel to be a solid, beautifully written story that at points, was comparable to being told an old folk-tale. Of course, the fact that this event actually occurred makes this tale all the more intriguing and I thoroughly enjoyed Sally Magnusson's fictional version of it that was quite obviously extensively researched.The event I'm referring to is one many people may not be overly familiar with. It happened in 1627 and involved a host of pirates who attacked the coast of Iceland, removing many men, women and children from the nearest towns, sailing them back to Algiers and selling them all into slavery. We follow one woman in particular, Ásta, who is pregnant at the time of the raid and is captured along with her husband, Ólafur and most of her children. Ásta ends up being separated from her husband and this is the story of how she copes in the house she is sold into, her relationship with her children and her absent husband and especially, how she changes as a person when she is wrenched away from a much simpler life and everything she has ever known.I always worry when I fall in love with a book's cover that the inside won't match the outside, so as to speak. Luckily, I had no worries on this account with The Sealwoman's Gift. I was absolutely captivated by Ásta's tale and the people that she met along the way, particularly in Algiers where the course of her life changes forever. I have to admit to being slightly nervous when I saw the cast of characters in the front of the novel, especially the Icelandic names which I'm not too familiar with. However, there was no need to panic, the book is written in such a way that you can easily get your head round who is who in a very short amount of time. I also loved the inclusion and translation of some common Icelandic words which just added to the other-wordly, beautifully alien and very unique feel of this story.This isn't just a narrative that re-hashes a moment in history, this is also a story about the relationships between families and between husband and wife and how they are altered when one or both of the parties goes through a life changing event, experiencing new things outside their humdrum, ordinary existence and developing into a different person as a result. The author uses one character in the novel to bring a folk/fairy-tale element to the proceedings when Ásta is warned about her future by one of the more superstitious islanders. I loved how this was incorporated into the tale and it gave the reader something to look back on and analyse when our female lead's life takes a more dramatic turn.This is a debut novel that drops you right into Iceland's past authentically and evocatively and having been to Iceland myself, I could picture everything in full, glorious detail. I'll certainly be watching out for what Sally Magnusson does next, her writing is too gorgeous to miss out on.For my full review and many more, please visit my blog at http://www.bibliobeth.com
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  • CJ
    January 1, 1970
    Iceland, pirates, history, folklore!! The premise had me salivating. While the story was interesting, it was more of a historical fictional biography instead of storytelling. It was interesting and engaging - I read it in one sitting so can't really complain (view spoiler)[ well except for how all the males seemed to fall in love with the main character. This did evoke quite a bit of eyerolling. She really wasn't an exceptional storyteller - defintely no scheherazade (hide spoiler)]. But at the Iceland, pirates, history, folklore!! The premise had me salivating. While the story was interesting, it was more of a historical fictional biography instead of storytelling. It was interesting and engaging - I read it in one sitting so can't really complain (view spoiler)[ well except for how all the males seemed to fall in love with the main character. This did evoke quite a bit of eyerolling. She really wasn't an exceptional storyteller - defintely no scheherazade (hide spoiler)]. But at the end, I had this twinge of regret that it wasn't quite what I was expecting.Thank you to Netgalley and publishers for the ARC.
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  • Lorraine
    January 1, 1970
    Review by Lorraine ParkerKnowing that the book is a combination of fact, folklore, historical fiction and almost mythology makes for an intriguing and mesmerizing read. A remarkable opening is set in 1627 with Asta, giving birth on the floorboards of a Barbary pirate vessel, surrounded by so many others who have also been brutally captured by the raiders, stolen from their Icelandic island and thrown as human cargo into the bowels of this ship.I was a little put off by the long list of character Review by Lorraine ParkerKnowing that the book is a combination of fact, folklore, historical fiction and almost mythology makes for an intriguing and mesmerizing read. A remarkable opening is set in 1627 with Asta, giving birth on the floorboards of a Barbary pirate vessel, surrounded by so many others who have also been brutally captured by the raiders, stolen from their Icelandic island and thrown as human cargo into the bowels of this ship.I was a little put off by the long list of characters, all with unfamiliar mostly Icelandic names at the beginning of the book. However, the pages turn with compulsion and I did not refer to the list even once. A clever mix of their present intermingled with vivid recollections of those catastrophic events that saw death, destruction and families split, is further tangled with folk lore stories that bring them comfort. The birth of Asta’s baby Jon is horrendous and this is followed by the death of old Odrum who is the ‘Sealwoman’, storyteller and foreteller of the future. What is the gift that she gives to Asta? It remains an enigma to the very end.Olafur, husband to the spirited Asta and father to Helga, Egill, Marta and now baby Jon is the community priest. I tried to have empathy with Olafur. However, the further I read the more my antipathy toward him grew, or was it the blindness of religion. Is this what the author intended?The loss suffered from one island alone, over 200 out of a population of over 400 is unimaginable. However, In Algiers the Asta family are ‘lucky’. Their eldest, Helga has not been captured. Their family of five, except for Egill are sold in the huge slave market together. The wealthy Moor, Cilleby, is the purchaser and will do with them as he wills. They cling to the possibility of ransom and return home. Olafur is sent on a journey by Cilleby to request ransom from the King of Denmark. Cilleby, who has two wives, eventually summons Asta to his private domain. An interesting interaction, of words only, takes place. On the second summons Asta finds herself ‘out of line’ and Cilleby is shocked to find himself ‘explaining’. Asta’s gaze is not fixed where it should be, she discovers he has blue eyes and he finds her privately ‘exhilarating’. After 6 years in Algiers Olafur is not so much on her mind. She finds joy in Marta, now 9 and Jon. The clash of Christianity and Islam is a fascinating integral element in this saga. The acceptance of the present, adaptation of the human spirit (even if sometimes reluctantly) and will to survive are so very powerfully depicted in this skilfully told saga. Tension keeps the reader completely spellbound as we suspect where certain aspects are going and always there is the question of Asta’s children. What happens to Jon, at the age of six and Marta at the age of 11. The wisdom of young Jon will help Asta eventually make a decision of her own free will.Being judgemental and giving platitudes is so easy. This book can only enrich every single individual who reads this realistic but sometimes fanciful book.
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  • Thelastwordreview
    January 1, 1970
    I was very fortunate to have met and even interviewed Magnus Magnusson back in the mid 1980’s and so when The Sealwoman’s Gift by the Broadcaster and Journalist Sally Mangnusson landed on my desk it brought so much excitement to me. Old stories from Iceland are part of folklore and The Sealwoman’s Gift is a remarkable debut that just adds to the legend of Icelandic stories.This is a story that is set in the 17th Century and a pirate raid on the small Westman Island close to Iceland. The pirates I was very fortunate to have met and even interviewed Magnus Magnusson back in the mid 1980’s and so when The Sealwoman’s Gift by the Broadcaster and Journalist Sally Mangnusson landed on my desk it brought so much excitement to me. Old stories from Iceland are part of folklore and The Sealwoman’s Gift is a remarkable debut that just adds to the legend of Icelandic stories.This is a story that is set in the 17th Century and a pirate raid on the small Westman Island close to Iceland. The pirates were only after one thing to round up as many of the men and women and children and sell them as slaves in the far off Arabian countries. It is 1627 and the pirates have taken the Pastor Olafur Egilsson, his wife and children along with hundreds of the inhabitants of this small island and now they are on a long voyage not without danger. When they arrive in Algiers the islanders are sold off for slavery with the exception of the Pastor Egilsson who is allowed to travel back to his country to seek a ransom to free those now captured and are now slaves. Egilsson’s wife Asta has three children and with a fourth on the way she is now thrust into new life thousands of miles away from her home on the island of Westman. For Asta she is a voice in this extraordinary novel which she breathes life to this story. On the island of Westman life is incredibly hard were the weather never seems to let up. Asta has always believed on the Icelandic fables and she believes in elves much to the dismay of her much older husband Olafur Egilsson. Sally Magnusson has managed to recreate the dreadful conditions on the pirate ship as the islanders have to contend with the stench and the cramped conditions on-board and this is where Asta will give birth to her fourth child a son and the name of Jon. What a life this poor child arrives into aboard a slave ship wrapped in nothing more that filthy rags. Now sold into slavery in a country so vastly different, food in abundance and a riot of colour, and also the weather is so different gone is the cold and wet and now it is hot sun nearly every day. Asta has never forgotten the old stories and it is here that she now tells these stories to her master Ali Pitterling Cilleby. Old stories from thousands of miles away from a far off small island now be told in Algiers. These stories are a reminder of her far off homeland and she thinks constantly of her husband is travelling to seek a ransom to free them. Will Asta ever be re-united with her husband or even her homeland ever again? I have to say that I am deeply impressed with the writing of Sally Magnusson and how she tells such an engrossing and accomplished novel. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED My thanks to Rosie Gailer at Two Roads Books for the review copy of The Sealwoman’s Gift.384 Pages
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  • Laura
    January 1, 1970
    This novel is about a little known time in Icelandic history, and I love little known times in history so I was excited to pick it up, and I admit, I am not disappointed by it at all.That being said, The Sealwoman's Gift is very hard to read at times, dealing as it does with things like mothers being separated from their children, or being forced to watch them grow up with values they did not ever want their children to espouse. I read it all in one sitting, and even though I'm not a mother nor This novel is about a little known time in Icelandic history, and I love little known times in history so I was excited to pick it up, and I admit, I am not disappointed by it at all.That being said, The Sealwoman's Gift is very hard to read at times, dealing as it does with things like mothers being separated from their children, or being forced to watch them grow up with values they did not ever want their children to espouse. I read it all in one sitting, and even though I'm not a mother nor have any desire to be a mother, I still couldn't get through some parts like the fate of the eldest son. It reminded me of Hassan's son from The Kite Runner.The writing in The Sealwoman's Gift is very good, but not unique. It's very much your typical Hannah Kent atmospheric historical mystery style that you'd expect from an atmospheric historical fiction novel. It's easy to read, almost too easy in fact.It's a very easy book to get slipped into and leave loving, almost to a fault. Because there are flaws about the novel, and there is one trope that I really cannot stand in it, but the characters and scenes and, again, writing are all so well done. This is an expertly crafted novel, with no technical flaws to it. In fact, this is probably the technically best new release I've encountered thus far.However, I wasn't crazy about the characters themselves. They are very well done and three dimensional, but I didn't like Asta at all, nor any of the characters really. I pitied their situation, but had a hard time emphasizing with them.And of course, the presence of my least favorite trope did not endear Asta to me. I despise the trope of a slave master and his slave falling in love, and this has one. I'm not talking about Stockholm Syndrome, which I think can work really well in the right situation, I'm talking about actual romantic love between the two. While this type of romance clearly does it for someone given the amount of slave master romance novels I've encountered over the years and it probably did happen in real life, I still don't like it personally.And, while I found this novel to be extremely well-researched, I found the gender inequality in the Ottoman Empire to be very downplayed, as well as the Christian oppression understated. So thumbs up on The Sealwoman's Gift as a whole, especially if you want something that's interesting and very well done technically. I still found it an enlightening read despite my problems with it. Definitely worth checking out when it comes to America in October.
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  • Eleanor
    January 1, 1970
    The Sealwoman's Gift is an utterly brilliant book hampered by a fairly terrible title; you'd think, to look at it, that it's a kind of Celtic romance involving a dreamy, windswept woman who spends a lot of time gazing out to sea. It's actually based on an event that really happened: a Barbary pirate raid on the Westman Islands of Iceland in 1627. We know from historical sources that among those captured were the Reverend Ólafur Egilsson, his heavily pregnant wife, and three of their children. Eg The Sealwoman's Gift is an utterly brilliant book hampered by a fairly terrible title; you'd think, to look at it, that it's a kind of Celtic romance involving a dreamy, windswept woman who spends a lot of time gazing out to sea. It's actually based on an event that really happened: a Barbary pirate raid on the Westman Islands of Iceland in 1627. We know from historical sources that among those captured were the Reverend Ólafur Egilsson, his heavily pregnant wife, and three of their children. Egilsson's memoir of the voyage, his brief time as a slave in Algiers, his release on a mission to beg for ransom from King Christian IV of Denmark (then the colonial ruler of Iceland), and his return to his home, was a major source for Magnusson's book. What she tells us, though, is the story of Egilsson's wife, Ásta Thórsteinsdottir, a literate and strongwilled (if impractical) woman whose myriad losses - her liberty, her husband, each of her children in one way or another - ought to have floored her. Magnusson's success is in balancing on a line that could easily tip her into anachronism or sentimentality. Ásta is clever and resourceful, but believably powerless: her owner in Algiers, although he begins to have feelings for her, is never capable of seeing her as anything more than a mere woman, inherently confusing and irrational. Her agonies over religion are also beautifully conveyed: as the wife of a Lutheran priest, albeit one who has been known to tell tales of the elves and the hidden people, she is in a particular bind when it comes to the potential conversion to Islam of her small children. Her fear that she will not only be separated from them in this life, but in the next, is piercingly convincing. And Magnusson's prose never falters, never slides into awkward phrasing or excessive lyricism, even maintaining a light, dry humour that doesn't feel out of place. What an exceptional and moving fiction debut this is.
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  • Fiona M
    January 1, 1970
    My local bookshop Mainstreet Trading is so close I can see it from my house. And I am ever so grateful that it’s here in our wee village. For the books yes but also for the author events. Sally Magnusson is a favourite of mine as a broadcaster but also through her role interviewing authors at the Borders Book Festival. So a fiction book written by her was intriguing.Bought this book last Sunday that day when you were sick of the snow and wanted some normality back. The extended winter has not be My local bookshop Mainstreet Trading is so close I can see it from my house. And I am ever so grateful that it’s here in our wee village. For the books yes but also for the author events. Sally Magnusson is a favourite of mine as a broadcaster but also through her role interviewing authors at the Borders Book Festival. So a fiction book written by her was intriguing.Bought this book last Sunday that day when you were sick of the snow and wanted some normality back. The extended winter has not been good for the bank balance book budget in March has gone out of control. But I was always buying this book.Firstly you can’t judge a good book by its cover but this cover is beautiful. Tactical even I’ve stroked it and gazed at it quite a few times. It’s a bookie thing. But most importantly what a story. And the story is a true one fictionalised. I love coming across a piece of history that I didn’t know. And I had no idea that pirates took people off from across Europe to Algiers in their thousands. And from Iceland. I didn’t quite comprehend there was so much travel and imagine travelling from Iceland to Algiers with no real comprehension of other cultures? Well this is what happened to this family. I’m not going to spoil this book just read it and enjoy a fascinating story beautifully written. And if you can hear Sally Magnusson speak do as it will add to the specialness of this wonderful book.
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  • Deborah
    January 1, 1970
    This novel is based on a true event when, in the mid-17th century, a Turkish fleet flying under Danish flags raids the small Icelandic island community of Heimat, slaughtering many of the inhabitants but also pirating others away to be sold as slaves. The main character, Asta, is the pregnant second wife of Olafur, a much older priest. Asta gives birth to her youngest child, Jon, during the journey to Algiers. There, the family is split apart, and Asta spends nearly ten years as slave to a Musli This novel is based on a true event when, in the mid-17th century, a Turkish fleet flying under Danish flags raids the small Icelandic island community of Heimat, slaughtering many of the inhabitants but also pirating others away to be sold as slaves. The main character, Asta, is the pregnant second wife of Olafur, a much older priest. Asta gives birth to her youngest child, Jon, during the journey to Algiers. There, the family is split apart, and Asta spends nearly ten years as slave to a Muslim master. During this time, she struggles to hold on to her Christian faith and to reunite with her children and friends. She finds solace in the Icelandic sagas that she loves and also uses them to entertain her master. When Asta learns that her husband (who she had presumed was dead) has finally persuaded the Danish king to ransom the some of the captives, she faces a decision that will be devastating, no matter what choice she makes. She is forced to reassess her life, her priorities, and her values.Although I enjoyed the novel, I felt that it got bogged down at times, especially when it broke out in romance. Magnusson certainly has done her research and gives insights into the reality of life for Muslim women in the time period: near the end, one character even observes how odd it seems that these women, who had suffered terrible fates as slaves, came home not broken but standing taller and stronger."
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  • Jo-anne Atkinson
    January 1, 1970
    Heimay is a small island off the coast of Iceland, populated by a few hundred people who live off the land and the sea. Asta moved to Heimay and became the second wife of Olafur, the priest. In the mid-17th century life is hard but Asta survives, knowing that she is loved and through the words of her beloved sagas. However everything changes the day the corsairs arrive and most of the population of Heimay is either captured or killed. Asta and her family are taken to Algiers and sold into slaver Heimay is a small island off the coast of Iceland, populated by a few hundred people who live off the land and the sea. Asta moved to Heimay and became the second wife of Olafur, the priest. In the mid-17th century life is hard but Asta survives, knowing that she is loved and through the words of her beloved sagas. However everything changes the day the corsairs arrive and most of the population of Heimay is either captured or killed. Asta and her family are taken to Algiers and sold into slavery. Over the next decade or so Asta learns to survive in captivity, deprived of her children, and Olafur tries to get the Danish King to ransom the people Heimay.This book is based on a true story, Olafur wrote his adventures down and they form the basis of this book. In the 17th century around 1% of the population of Iceland was sold into slavery and very few returned after ransoming. Although the character of Asta is mainly fictitious, her story reads true as it is based on several other accounts. I loved the way that Asta took solace in the Icelandic Sagas and also the difficult choices she had to make during and after captivity. The stoical nature of the Icelandic people is represented well here in a lyrical novel of loss and home.
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