Heiða is a solitary farmer with a flock of 500 sheep in a remorseless area bordering Iceland’s highlands. It’s known as the End of the World. One of her nearest neighbours is Iceland’s most notorious volcano, Katla, which has periodically driven away the inhabitants of Ljótarstaðir ever since people first started farming there in the twelfth century. This portrait of Heiða written with wit and humour by one of Iceland’s most acclaimed novelists, Steinunn Sigurðardóttir, tells a heroic tale of a charismatic young woman, who at 23 walked away from a career as a model in New York to take over the family farm when her father died.
I want to tell women they can do anything, and to show that sheep farming isn’t just a man’s game. I guess I’ve always been a feminist. When I was growing up, there was a female president, and I used to wear the same clothes and play with the same toys as the boys. It was just normal to me.
Divided into four seasons, Heiða tells the story of a remarkable year, interwoven with vivid stories of her animals and farm work and paints an unforgettable portrait of a remote life close to nature.
We, humans, are mortal; the land outlives us, new people come, new sheep, new birds and so on but the land with its rivers and lakes and resources, remains.
I received a copy of this book from John Murray Press via NetGalley in return for an honest review.
I was attracted to this book because it is about a place, Iceland, that I know little about, it is currently a popular holiday destination too. The idea of a female Shepherd, running a farm practically single-handed is worth reading about, so I did.
The book has an informative forward, written by the biographer, who is a notable Icelandic author. The book came into being because Heida wanted to stop parts of her land, which has been farmed since the 12th-century being destroyed by an energy company. This it seems is the catalyst for Heida sharing her life to date, but the story is so much more than this.
Written like a memoir, this story details Heida’s life, much of which has been spent on Ljótarstaðir, her family farm. The writing style is informal. It is emotional, individual and personal, providing a real insight into her life.
It is also a story about preserving a way of life and the individual versus the corporate machine. The unwavering message being, it is not enough to want to keep your way of life, in an ever-changing world, you sometimes have to step into their world and fight on equal terms.
If you enjoy learning about different ways of life and culture and have a love of animals this will be an interesting read for you, like it is for me.