Becoming Leidah is set in 19th-century Norway at a time when Christianity coexisted with beliefs in pagan or folkloric gods. The people of the fishing village of Ørken are puritanical in their new beliefs but also resort to the old ways and punishments for the unexplained. Against this backdrop, Leidah Pietersdatter is born with blue, webbed hands and feet to Pieter, a human father, and to Maeva, a folkloric or mythical creature who was robbed of her skin and natural form by Pieter.
Thus begin years of solitude and insecurity for Maeva, whom the townsfolk reject because she is an outsider; loneliness for Leidah, who just wants to be an average child; and delusion for Pieter, who believes all will be well. Woven into this plot line are three fantastical forces: Maeva’s fantastical shape-shifting past lover; the spirit of a witch, who protects Maeva and Leidah; and the Fates.
The book jumps between narrators, the real and mystical worlds, and the past and present to bring characters’ stories together and paint the big picture. It comes to a head when Maeva can no longer survive in the real world, and Leidah shows signs of fantastical powers. She may have to find her true home, too.
Becoming Leidah is a complex novel with many layers of realities, voices, themes, and times that the author spins together to the final scene. The writing is rich with imagery that evokes the town, the people, and the sea, which plays an integral role. The attempt at a lyrical or fairy-tale voice sometimes feels over the top, and there is no tidy ending, perhaps leaving an interpretation open to the reader. Those looking for an unusual kind of reading experience should consider this novel.