The Sealwoman’s Gift: book group questions

Tomorrow our Book Group are meeting to discuss The Sealwoman’s Gift by Sally Magnusson. I couldn’t find any book group questions out there so I’ve created some of my own. They are:

  1. Did it alter the way you feel about this book to know it is taken from a true story? Does it matter that most of it is made up? Do you think Sally Magnusson did a good job filling in the gaps/speaking for the women whose history is seldom told?
  2. What was Iceland like in the 17th century? What did the author make alive for you? (All the details are there: dark smoke-filled hovels reeking of fulmar oil used for the lamps, with a sheep’s uterus strung across a window to keep out the wind. A fire fuelled by puffin bones, a housewife stirring a greasy mutton stew, or softening the head of a cod in whey.)
  3. What did you think of the relationship between Asta and Cilleby? Both are changed by the other. She is his property and must never forget it. What might have happened if it had continued?
  4. What did you think of the other women who embrace (perhaps some more enthusiastically than others) their new culture? What would you have done? Could you become Muslim to lose the status of slave?
  5. What was the importance of story telling in the book?
  6. Did Asta want to go home?
  7. Do you think Asta was a good mother? Could you have left your children behind?
  8. How did she feel about her own land when she got back?
  9. Did the book make you think of today’s refugee crisis? What parallels did you find?

The Last Runaway

I am a huge fan of the books of Tracy Chevalier (she of Girl with a Pearl Earring fame). The thing I love most about them is that I learn about history in the context of a novel. And not just history, but some aspect of history that I knew nothing about. I have loved them all.

Thanks to Son #2 he gave me her latest ‘The last Runaway’ for my birthday recently and what a treat it is. So what did I learn in this book? I learned about the history of quilt making and the different designs; I learned about the first Quakers in America; and I learned about the underground Railroad which helped escaping slaves.

The story sees Honor setting sail from Bristol in 1850 with her sister Grace to a new life in America. Honor’s heart has been broken and she decides to accompany her sister who is going to get married and perhaps to find some adventure and a break with her old life. Honor and her sister are Quakers who live simply and traditionally. Sadly on the journey Grace dies and Honor has to carry on her own. She ends up in Ohio staying with her sister’s intended husband and his family. Ohio is a very different place from England and it takes time for Honor to settle.

The Quaker community oppose slavery in principle but they aren’t always prepared to break the law and help the runaway slaves from the south who pass through on their way to Canada and freedom. Honor struggles to find her place in the community especially when she is found to be helping feed and shelter passing slaves.

In her letters home we learn about Honor’s struggles with a new land and new ways of living. She talks about her quilting and how different the designs are in America. And we hear about the underground which assists the passage of slaves to freedom.

There are lots of strong women in this book which of course I loved. The characters were believable and the description was evocative as ever. 5 stars from me.