I thought this was going to be the perfect book for me but it broke my heart – The Sealwoman’s Gift by Sally Magnusson

Book Reviews, Book Thoughts, Recommended

When Ásta and most of the rest of her Icelandic village are kidnapped and shipped off to Algiers she was about to give birth, and her third child is born in the hold of the ship, surrounded by people she has known for many years. Her family is separated and sold to different owners, and her husband is sent back to plead a ransom. Ásta finds her new world a confusing mixture of abhorrent and compelling, and must try to tread a path between mourning her lot and making a new life.

I was so excited when this book arrived. The cover is beautiful, it’s set in Iceland, the title suggests selkies (a Scottish and probably beyond mythological creature: a seal that walks out of the water and turns into a woman) and goodness gracious me, it’s actually a book about a mother. And boy was it excellent, but it was also utterly heart wrenching.

I’m not sure I can begin to sing this book’s praises highly enough. I found Ásta such a refreshing main character: yes a mother, and a woman who has retained her personhood, her passion, her temper, her mind, her faith. 

She found it difficult to fit in in her home, and then again in the foreign land. She comported herself with dignity: she faced terrible circumstances and made difficult decisions, and both upheld and questioned her principles and beliefs.

And she goes through so much. I wept during this book at the things that happened to her and her children. It didn’t seem gratuitous though: if anything, historically, she probably got off fairly lightly. 

The one thing I couldn’t quite believe was her reaction to some of the things that happened to her children. She was sad, but got over it more easily than I thought, didn’t fight it as I felt I would in the same circumstance. But perhaps it was the survival instinct kicking in.

Now I’m in a quandary because I’d love to discuss this book with someone, but don’t necessarily want to inflict the emotion on them. It was so interesting too, though. Gosh. Read it!

Thanks so much for the exciting surprise parcel, dear publishers. 

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