Sarah Perry, author of The Essex Serpent



Sealwoman's Gift


‘Sally Magnusson has taken an amazing true event and created a brilliant first novel. It’s an epic journey in every sense: although it’s historical, it’s incredibly relevant to our world today’







‘From the first, it leaps from the page… I found myself absolutely persuaded by Ásta’s extraordinary journey from the harsh Icelandic coast to the strange and splendid palaces of Algiers. I enjoyed and admired it in equal measure’

Sarah Perry, author of The Essex Serpent

‘Icelandic history has been brought to extraordinary life. I was swept up in the story and the vivid plight of people taken away from everything they knew and understood. An accomplished and intelligent novel’

Yrsa Sigurðardóttir, author of Why Did You Lie?

‘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’ 


‘Richly imagined and energetically told, The Sealwoman’s Gift is a powerful tale of loss and endurance’

Sunday Times

‘Fascinating … a really, really good read’

BBC R2 Book Club

‘Engrossing, atmospheric’

Sunday Express

‘A rich, captivating work’

Mail on Sunday

‘Remarkably accomplished…The true story behind the novel is almost preposterously epic, yet she brings it to life’

The Scotsman

‘A lyrical tale’



Sealwoman full spread

In 1627 Barbary pirates raided the coast of Iceland and abducted at least 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 freedom and family with the one thing she has brought from her northern homeland: the sagas and folktales in her head.

The Sealwoman’s Gift is about the eternal power of storytelling to help us survive. Here are Icelandic sagas to fend off a slave-master’s advances, Arabian nights to help an old man die. Here, too, the stories we tell ourselves to protect our minds from what cannot otherwise be borne, the stories we need to make us happy.


Sally Magnusson copyright Derek PrescottBroadcaster and journalist Sally Magnusson has written 10 books, most famously her Sunday Times bestseller, Where Memories Go (2014) about her mother’s dementia.

Half-Icelandic, half-Scottish, Sally has inherited a rich storytelling tradition. 

The Sealwoman’s Gift is her first novel.


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