Sigga of Reykjavik

Written by Solveig Eggerz
Review by Valerie Adolph

Sigga’s story starts when she is a young teenager living on a farm in Iceland after the end of World War 1. It follows her to the midst of World War 2, a middle-aged woman living in Reykjavík.

Raped by the farmer’s son, Sigga is taken to Reykjavík to do housework and care for Diva, a bedridden woman who loves to sing opera music from Tosca. Sigga must also shovel coal on the wharves like a man. Tired of this, she becomes cook on a trawler, falls in love with its owner and bears his daughter, whom she names Tosca. By then she is married to Jón, a little man. The marriage is happy enough until Jon is drowned while fishing.

Sigga works at a series of hardscrabble jobs, mostly gutting fish but also delivering babies, embroidering souvenir handkerchiefs and sewing corsets, but the money is never enough. She lives in poverty, snatching moments of happiness and trying to get closer to the man she believes is her father. Fiercely independent, she worries over the future of both her daughter Tosca and her stepson Magnus.

This novel reads like a saga. While Sigga is very much a flesh-and-blood woman, her story is almost mythic in the trials she faces. At the same time, her country is also facing trials, from desire for independence from Denmark to those who would bring it into the Communist world, or introduce the beliefs of Hitler. Avoiding those pitfalls, the country is taken over first by British soldiers and then American soldiers. The way of life in Reykjavík is inevitably changed, just as Sigga is changed. Not a book to be read lightly, Sigga’s story has considerable intensity, depth of understanding and vision. It’s a saga of independence for our time.