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Heiða : A Shepherd at the Edge of the World

Heiða : A Shepherd at the Edge of the World
Steinunn Sigurðardóttir
John Murray
English translations
Review Author
Björn Halldórsson

(Heiða : fjallabóndinn, 2016)

In this slim and heavily illustrated book, novelist and poet Steinunn Sigurðardóttir reinvigorates the traditional Icelandic pastoral memoir by telling the true story of Heiða Guðný Ásgeirsdóttir; a sheep farmer living on the cusp of the Icelandic highlands.

In her introduction, Steinunn freely admits to taking inspiration from Nobel laureate Svetlana Alexievich’s oral histories of the Soviet Union. She then performs a skilful disappearing act and allows Heiða herself to take hold of the narrative and present her somewhat solitary life on Ljótarstaðir, the family farm which she took over at the age of twenty-three.

In Steinunn’s writing, Heiða becomes vibrantly alive—a James Herriot for the 21st century. Her voice blisters with anger when she talks about her fight against plans for a power plant near to her farm, is tinged with embarrassment when she recounts her brief stint as a runway model in New York and has a melancholic edge to it when she speaks of her family history and the people from her past. The reader is left with the sense that here is a woman who chose her path with intent and purpose; one who cherishes her solitude and independence.