Book review: The Sealwoman’s Gift by Sally Magnusson

3/5 stars

Audible version, narrated by Katherine Manners

This was an interesting premise, and certainly seemed very well researched. The story was also well told and included plenty of interesting events and descriptions to paint a picture of faraway times and places. It just didn’t really grab me. It’s a very strong 3 though, and I would still recommend it, I think it’s more of a personal preference thing.

The novel is based on a real historic event of 1627, when privateers raided some Icelandic islands and took a bunch of captives. From thereon out the story is widely imagined, though thoroughly researched. We mainly follow Ásta, the wife of Icelandic preacher Ólafur, who upon arrival in Algiers is sold as a slave to the moor Ali Pitterling Cilleby.

Ásta has to see her oldest son sold of to the Pasha, for goodness knows what purpose, and she is separated from her husband too, though for the time being is allowed to hold on to her 3 year old daughter and her newborn baby son. As Ásta tries to adjust to a new life not only as a slave, but in a country and culture so foreign to her own, and as she mourns the loss of/separation from those dear to her, she loses herself in sagas.

Ásta has always loved the old Icelandic sagas, and she will tell them to her children and herself to remind her of home and keep something of her spirit intact. She learns that there are storytellers in her new country too, and spends her evenings listening to the women of the house telling stories from 1001 Nights in the rooftop garden.

While Ásta waits years and years for news of a possible ransom from the king of Denmark, she watches her children grow up as Muslims, and develops an unusual relationship with her captor.

I won’t say anything more about the plot so as not to spoil it. Though I definitely enjoyed the book, and the writing is beautiful at times, it just lacked something. Like there was this distance the whole time. The stories told within the story were just touched on superficially, and the main narrative was sad but in a flat kind of way. It sort of bummed me out, but I didn’t really feel empathy towards the characters because I didn’t really feel like I got to know them. I didn’t get that “oh I must know what happens next” kind of feeling. Maybe it’s because it’s Magnusson’s first work of fiction. It was an interesting book though, and I’m glad I gave it a listen.

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