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Publisher's Summary

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 story telling 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.
©2018 Sally Magnusson (P)2018 John Murray Press
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Critic Reviews

"A remarkable feat of imagination...I enjoyed and admired it in equal measure." (Sarah Perry, author of The Essex Serpent)
"An extraordinarily immersive read, that emphasises the power of stories, examining themes of motherhood, identity, exile and freedom...a journey that not only crosses continents, but encompasses tragedy and rich sensuality." (Guardian)
"A powerful tale of Barbary pirates...richly imagined." (Sunday Times
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful
5 out of 5 stars
By Cathy L. on 03-04-18

Beautifully written, compelling storytelling

Would you listen to The Sealwoman's Gift again? Why?

I went right back to the beginning when it was over. Poetic writing. Heart-wrenching story where the spirit of kindness prevails. Thought provoking exploration of religion, slavery and human relationships. Historical fiction at its best.

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1 of 1 people found this review helpful

3 out of 5 stars
By Cariola on 06-07-18

Interesting at first--but I got bored.

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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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful
5 out of 5 stars
By Bookaholic on 03-14-18

Iceland versus north Africa!

I must say that as idyllic as Iceland seemed, refreshing glacial rivers, colourful Puffins (to eat!), the writing was so good that I could almost feel the cold. From a female perspective, given the situation of being a slave in a warm country with good food and pleasant surroundings as compared with being a free person, freezing, damp and hungry - I would be seriously torn.

Sally Magnusson has woven an excellent work of fiction around this real-life historical incident. I attended a talk given by Sally in Pitlochry when Sally herself read from her book and remarked that it would be perfect if she did the narration herself. However, Katherine Manners did a flawless narration and did not let Sally’s book down at all. Katherines’s pronunciation of the Icelandic family names and places was so good I would not be surprised to hear she was Icelandic herself - excellent.

Even the ending, which I will not spoil, it was not what I was hoping for, but very true to life rather than fiction.

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6 of 6 people found this review helpful

3 out of 5 stars
By Kim on 06-28-18

2.5 Stars

Writing was beautiful and the narrator was good, but this was quite different from what I had been lead to expect. I was sold on the concept that this book was about a historical fantasy set in Iceland, drawing on their local mythology including elf people and seal people. This was more a dark historical drama, where the mythology was only briefly touched upon on the start and end. I enjoyed the setting but it was not for me. It was very dark and I did not feel for the characters or understand their decisions. I think it is also important to alert people to the fact that rape and slavery are potentially triggering and frequent occurrences in the book. The amount of characters was also a little confusing at the beginning. Obviously, not what I had hoped for. The writing was very beautiful and I liked the historical Icelandic setting very much. The ending was a little rushed and confusing though.

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4 of 4 people found this review helpful

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