Secrets of the Sprakkar by Eliza Reid

The First Lady of Iceland and I have a few things in common. We’re both Gen X, write professionally, grew up in small Canadian towns, and are always aware of “small nation complex” when watching our respective countries shamelessly ask visitors for validation. Perhaps the most interesting and fortunate thing is that we can easily identify sprakki in our communities, and luckily amongst our friends and family. The Icelandic language is ever progressive, always creating new vocabulary to accommodate modern concepts, however sprakkar or sprakki is an ancient term meaning “extraordinary women”. The fact that this word has existed long before women’s rights movements and the need to fight and protest for gender equality is fascinating yet simultaneously surprising.

“…this is an ideal book for all genders to absorb and continue the conversation about outstanding women.”

In Eliza Reid’s first book, Secrets of the Sprakkar, Iceland’s forward-thinking approach to issues we have yet to resolve to anyone’s satisfaction in Canada and the US is on full and enviable display: generous and subsidized childcare, dual paid parental leave, “it takes a village” approach to childminding while allowing women to return to work with ease, post-pregnancy, pay equity in certain professions, easy access to abortion, trans kids rights, broad and open lens to sex education in schools, and much more. Iceland by no means has the perfect model for gender equalization – the patriarchy is still dodging their eviction notice in between #MeToo claims by immigrants – but where we still battle over several areas of controversy, they are several steps ahead in normalizing the conversation to consistently promote the betterment of women. It isn’t as much out of duty or “it’s about time” but more for necessity. The Icelandic people have already learned that a fully functioning and productive society must include a higher percentage of women at all levels of the workforce, especially in areas traditionally held by the male majority. While not yet a 50/50 split, what we see is a society that is accepting of this need and making genuine strides to achieve a fair balance.

The First Lady interviews several women who have made a positive impact in moving the needle in the right direction before a local and global audience. Thurídur Blær Jóhannsdóttir of The Daughters of Reykjavik rap group, Claudia Ashanie Wilson, a human rights attorney originally from Jamaica, and Gudbjörg Heida Gudmundsddóttir, EVP of Marel Fish are just a few of the many with engaging stories of challenges and triumphs. Of particular interest is learning about Iceland’s visible minority struggles with racism, cultural adaptation, and eventual involvement in local support networks where women help each other to thrive. Each story is a well-threaded page-turner framed between Reid’s personal immigrant experience and notable sprakki in history.

As March is recognized as Women’s History Month in the UK, Australia, and the United States (October in Canada), this is an ideal book for all genders to absorb and continue the conversation about outstanding women. Book club lovers will appreciate the recommended discussion topics towards the end. Coincidentally, the aesthetics of the hard copy sleeve are also of note; one cannot help but think about Ukraine while staring at the blue and yellow hues on the jacket. Kharkiv, now subjected to rubble and ash from the current Russian invasion, was home to the first Gender Museum in Eastern Europe where the women’s movement and leadership projects have been celebrated. As current events have the world on edge and at the mercy of one unhinged man, these pages serve as a perfect escape into what it would be like if more women were at the helm, running the world.

Eliza Reid is a journalist, editor, and co-founder of the annual Iceland Writers Retreat. Eliza grew up on a hobby farm near Ottawa, Canada, and moved to Iceland in 2003, five years after meeting the man who later became her husband, Gudni Th. Jóhannesson. When he took office as President of Iceland on August 1, 2016, Eliza became the country’s first lady. In that capacity, she has been active in promoting gender equality, entrepreneurship and innovation, tourism and sustainability, as well as the country’s writers and rich literary heritage.

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Simon & Schuster (Feb. 1 2022)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Hardcover ‏ : ‎ 288 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 1982174048
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1982174040

Mala Rai is a poet, drummer, psychology student, and technical writing hired gun on the West Coast. Her most recent poems have appeared in Eclectica Magazine, High Shelf Press, and Anti-Heroin Chic. You can follow her on Instagram @malaraipoetry