By: Angie Haddock
A daring and magnificent account of Iceland’s most famous female sea captain who constantly fought for women’s rights and equality—and who also solved one of the country’s most notorious robberies.
Last year, I read a handful of non-fiction books about badass females… albeit, some better written than others. One was even written by the first lady of Iceland! So the reasons this book appealed to me should be obvious.
This is the story of Thurídur Einarsdóttir, who was born on the Southwest shores of Iceland in the late 1700s. She lived a long life, from 1777 to 1863, and spent all of it in roughly the same region. (Although she did take to traveling in her later years, it was all still within Iceland).
Thurídur was born to a poor family, and while she was very young, the area suffered from a volcanic ash-induced famine. Her dad refused a lodger, as they had no food in the house to offer him, but this was a cardinal sin in their culture. The lodger supposedly cursed his family for nine generations.
And here our story begins.
Despite the curse, Thurídur did fairly well for herself. She learned to fish as a young teen, and developed a knack for being able to read the coming weather. As her fishing skills grew, she became highly sought after as a deckhand, and even outearned many men on her boats. She was eventually hired to captain other people’s boats, even, and was trusted among the boat owners and the fishermen (and women) under her care. In fact, in 52 years of fishing, it is said that she never lost a crew member.
While she did not have much trouble getting her crew to respect her knowledge of the sea, she still did face some discrimination in life. She was known to wear trousers everywhere except to church, and later she added a top hat to her ensemble (just because she liked it!). She also did a lot of farming when it was the season for it, and could scythe hay with the strongest of men. So of course, some were put off by her way of living.
She was married a few times, and had one daughter who died in childhood. She later adopted her sister’s daughter, who was disabled. In her later years, she spent all of her money trying to make sure her niece would be taken care of after her own death… and that niece did live to be 89 years old!
We spend a lot of time in her home village getting to know all the townspeople, as she does interact with them constantly – both on land and at sea. So by the time a very brazen robbery happens, we have established that Thurídur knows everyone. A county commissioner is sent to town to investigate, and – not knowing the townspeople himself – immediately pushes her for her thoughts on it. (This set-up definitely made me think of the BBC’s “Broadchurch.” Anyone else?) She doesn’t want to implicate her friends, but starts pointing out clues the commissioner missed. This leads to confessions, and four area men being sent to prison in Denmark (which ruled over Iceland at the time).
After the convictions, Thurídur has a tougher time with her neighbors. Several make threats, and someone even goes so far as to set fire to a boat in her care. She still has many allies, also, and they try to help her. Eventually, she is forced to move to a bigger city nearby, where she starts out working in a shop. She also starts acting as a tour guide, leading travelers through the nearby mountains to other villages and cities. She remains lively and sharp into old age, but ultimately ends up destitute anyway (because she spends all her money on her niece).
This is a great story, and well written. There is drama, action, and politics.
When I first got this as an advanced reader’s copy, it was set to publish on January 31st of this year… but the date moved, and this book has already come out! We’ll still call it a new release, though. I read it thanks to Netgalley and the publisher, Sourcebooks.