The Sealwoman’s Gift by Sally Magnusson begins in 1627 in Iceland where Moslem pirates have invaded the island, murdering many of the inhabitants and dragging 400 of them away to be sold as slaves when they reach Algiers. Asta is heavily pregnant and she has been captured along with her children and her husband who is a Christian pastor.
Life in Iceland had been incredibly hard, the people lived mainly on fish and puffins – and if they wanted eggs they had to risk life and limb climbing down steep cliffs to steal them from the birds. The summer is very short and not that warm so any crops grown would have been very sparse – if they existed at all. Everybody is poor.
So you can imagine the culture shock it must have been for them to disembark into the heat, scents and colour of Algiers. Asta was lucky to be sold into the household of a wealthy man whose number one wife had asked him to find a woman who could sew well and she was able to keep some of her young children with her to begin with. Olafur her husband is eventually allowed to leave for Denmark as he’s given the job of asking the King of Denmark for ransom money.
Nine years go past and in that time Asta can’t help seeing the advantages of Algiers where the food and way of life in general are much more comfortable than in Iceland, she can wear silk trousers as opposed to the rough homespun of Iceland and fresh water is plentiful, so the people are clean!
She isn’t free though and has no say in her life or her children’s lives, but she does have a friendship/relationship with her owner which begins when she tells him tales that she had learned in Iceland.
I loved this book, Sally Magnusson’s writing is at times beautiful and descriptive, the reader gets a great sense of the atmosphere in both Iceland and Algiers. I hope that she writes some more books.
The author must have been influenced by her father Magnus Magnusson who I remember said that he was steeped in the Icelandic sagas.