Solveig Eggerz


Rebellious Icelander

Review: Sigga of Reykjavik

Publisher: Beacon Press Books, Washington D.C.

Author: Solveig Eggerz

Reviewed by: Ralph Peluso, Literary Editor

Zebra Rating – 5 Stripes

ALEXANDRIA, VA-For those who enjoy the plight of strong heroines facing brutal conditions and long odds, Sigga of Reykjavik hits home. From the beginning, Sigga’s determination of will and intestinal struggles draws you to her. She is unrestrained of spirit and independent, and readers will quickly sense that Sigga is destined for great things.

But first, Sigga must survive. She needs sufficient strength to fend off the fawning men working around her. The author parallels Sigga’s drive for independence with that of Iceland’s struggle to complete its break from Danish rule.

Sigga of Reykjavik, starting during the Great Depression, is an engaging coming-of-age story of a young woman fleeing the abusive working conditions she endures at every turn. She soon learns that the grass on the other side is not greener. She runs smack dab into abject poverty and a variety of tribulations in depression-ravaged Reykjavik.

Armed with the threat of a powerful fist to the jaw, Sigga diligently supports her family, working alongside men who wisely know that Sigga does not tolerate unwelcomed touches. But women easily connect with Sigga on several levels: adventurous spirit, nurturing instincts, and maternal protection of her fiery-haired daughter, Tosca.

The onset of World War II exhilarates Sigga. She sees it as way to break out of isolation for her and Iceland. Occupation by the Allied forces brings opportunity; added work reaps her a bit of wealth. But Sigga is at a moral crossroads, accepting financial benefits for her family, knowing they come from the hands of carnal, thirsty, ill-intentioned soldiers.

Sigga is fearless and lives life to the fullest, taking on every challenge and captivating readers along the way.

The author notes: “A military occupation, even by a friendly force, as with the Allies, is experienced very differently by the occupied and the occupier. Humiliation, fear of life or even national extinction are especially strong concerns for small countries. Iceland, with a population of 120,000, was no different. Icelandic history is inspirational. The struggle for independence. The Allied occupation, a British and U.S. force of nearly 50,000. In that, I saw a novel. One that might impact women already facing dire personal circumstances. Sigga was born — feisty, fearless, a female who fights on for her family’s good. And a fascinating fish industry! Sigga did what she needed to: wash, dry, salt, and sell fish. The two most important men in her life are a poor rowboat fisherman, Jon, and a successful trawler man, Sveinn.”

For readers who have not visited Iceland, Solveig Eggerz paints a vivid picture of the island country. She brings readers into their culture, combining history, conditions, and folklore.

Eggerz was born in Iceland and is a forceful storyteller, bringing depth and strength to her characters. Previous works include her acclaimed novel, Seal Woman. Solveig’s career is centered on creative writing, bringing the joy of prose to a variety of students, including blind students in Iceland and those in the prison system of Northern Virginia. She has also worked as a reporter for the Alexandria Gazette. Solveig is working on her own story, a girl born to Icelandic parents who grew up in four different countries, speaking three different languages. Sound likes a memoir!

This is a story of spirit, fortitude, struggle, and an indomitable spirit. Compelling from the get-go.

Rating – 5 Zebra stripes.

As part of the series of occasional conversations with other writers, C.M. Mayo talks with Solveig Eggerz, author of the fiercely poetic novel Seal Woman. Inspired by the Icelandic fairytale of the seal woman and the true story of some 300 German war widows brought to Iceland to marry and work on the remote farms, Seal Woman has been widely praised and translated into both Hebrew and Icelandic. The conversation ranges from the author’s unusual background (from Iceland to England to Germany to Alexandria, Virginia), Iceland’s book culture, fairytales, advice for writers, and more. Visit Solveig Eggerz at

C.M. Mayo is the author of the novel,The Last Prince of the Mexican Empire, which was named a Library Journal Best Book 2009, and the collection Sky Over El Nido, which won the Flannery O’Connor Award for Short Fiction. She is also author of a travel memoir, Miraculous Air: Journey of a Thousand Miles through Baja California, the Other Mexico. She is at work on a book about the Big Bend region of far West Texas, apropos of which she hosts Marfa Mondays, a series of 24 podcasts exploring Marfa, Texas and environs. For more about these and other books and podcasts by C.M. Mayo,

Listen to the podcast by visiting

From Germany to Iceland
Alexandria author’s novel explores 1940s exodus.
Interview from Alexandria Gazette-Packet
The Connection Newspapers

By Michael Lee Pope
Wednesday, June 04, 2008

A native of Iceland, Solveig Eggerz has lived in Alexandria since 1974. She was a freelance writer for several years before joining the Alexandria Port Packet as a reporter during 1977-78. She continued to contribute to the paper until 1988. She has worked as a journalist and professor of writing and research. Her first novel, “Seal Woman” was published last month by Ghost Road Press.

Why did you write this novel?

I’ve been writing all my life. I wrote my first short story when I was 11, but the exact stimulating moment for this novel occurred in 1997 when I was in Iceland and saw an Icelandic movie called “Maria.” It was about a German woman coming out of the rubble of Berlin who went to Iceland in 1949 to work on a farm. She was following an ad. I learned later that she was responding to an advertisements put in the newspapers by the Icelandic Agricultural Association. They needed laborers to work on the farms because people, especially women, were moving to the towns. What I saw in the movie was a tremendous cultural shock. The farm was very primitive, and this woman was from a city. There was this great silence. Part of the problem was that they didn’t speak the same language. But it was also true that the farm folk did not encourage these Germans to speak about their experiences.

Are there any autobiographical aspects to the novel?

My family lived for may years in Germany when my father was an Icelandic diplomat. He was very interested in the Holocaust and in World War II. So I sort of imbibed that tremendous interest. And that is woven into the story, everything that had happened in Germany before these people moved to Iceland. And I always sort of carried my origins inside. We were in a kind of exile because it was too expensive to go back to Iceland regularly. I identified with writers like Amy Tan and others who carried their country of origin inside them while living in another country. And I imagine there was a bit of that in these women from Germany.

The tone of the novel has a dreamlike quality. How did you accomplish that?

I don’t know. My tendency is to under-write. I’m a minimalist, so I don’t like to put in a lot of adjectives. Maybe this is because I was first a reporter. I like to pare things down and not add things. I don’t know if that accounts for the dreamlike quality. Everything isn’t spoken. My goal was to show what she was thinking, so I didn’t consciously create a dreamlike quality.

Dark Castle is the name of the farm where the Germans woman goes to stay. How did you come to choose that name?

I wanted it to be a little dark. Although the farm ends up being not quite as dark as she envisions it. Every farm in Iceland is named, and I had heard this name. I may have given it an odd translation. But I imagined that she would picture it as somewhat dark and scary. Maybe that’s why I chose the name.

How would you describe the genre of this novel?

I would say it’s historical fiction. I interviewed a number of people and read quite a bit about the period. So in that sense, this is something that really did happen. But my goal was not to make a documentary. I wanted it to be fiction. My goal was to resolve something, the puzzle of the characters. I wanted to depict the kind of emotional experiences that this character might have. How would she, with my help, resolve the dilemma she faces?

What has been the response to the novel?

I have been very moved by the response. People—including strangers—have actually said in sort of an honest way that they like it. Even my son is reading it, and he said he likes it, which is moving. The response has been tremendous in Iceland. I receive e-mails from people every day commenting on an interview that appeared in Morgunbladid, the biggest daily newspaper in Iceland. I wrote it to resolve what was in my mind about this kind of woman, so it’s a nice feeling that people seem to understand it. It’s a form of communication.


Sigga of Reykjavik


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.

Great Reads Friday: Seal Woman by Solveig Eggerz

Review by Misha Crews “Storyline” blog
Solveig Eggerz was born in Iceland.  “My ancestors wrote when they had time,” she says. “The older they got, the more they wrote. My great-great grandfather, Friðrik Eggerz, a farmer and a protestant minister, wrote his autobiography when he was in his eighties, a book that documented 19th century Icelandic regional history; my grandfather, Sigurður Eggerz, twice prime minister of Iceland, wrote plays and essays. My father, Pétur Eggerz, a foreign service officer, wrote fiction and non-fiction until the day he died at age 80.” Solveig has worked as a journalist and professor of writing and research. She has lived in Germany and now resides in Alexandria, Virginia.  As my Great Reads feature returns, I’m so happy to be able to share with you her book, Seal Woman – this week’s Great Read!

In the rubble of post-World War II Berlin, artist Charlotte flees her past and everything she’s lost by responding to an ad calling for strong women who can cook and do farm work in Iceland. But painful memories and ghosts follow Charlotte as she struggles to make a new life in a raw and rugged landscape. This debut novel celebrates the twin powers of storytelling and art as ways to reassemble the fragments of Charlotte’s broken self and move her-and everyone she loves-toward peace. This novel won first prize for fiction from the Maryland Writers’ Association.
What do readers say?
“Solveig Eggerz brings to life post-war rural Iceland and wartime Berlin in this character study that weaves the reality of Charlotte’s difficult and tragic life with the Icelandic myths and magic of her adopted country. A book that recalls the genius of Isabel Allende, the author tells the story of a German woman fleeing her country and her past to build a new life in Iceland. With vivid descriptions of the beautiful yet bleak Icelandic environment, readers learn of Charlotte’s strength even as she battles the memories of her past. This page-turner will appeal to anyone who enjoyed reading the Icelandic sagas, Isabel Allende, or about World War II and Iceland. ” – P.B.

Visit Solveig Eggerz’ website to find out more!

Or buy today from!

Fantastic Tips & Takeaways from “Tell your Story, Then Write it” Panel

-By Pat Mcnees

We had a great turnout for our panel discussion, Tell Your Story, Then Write It, on October 1. Organizers Ellouise Schoettler and Solveig Eggerz were joined by panelists Dario DiBattista, Jessica Robinson, Len Kruger, and Pat McNees. We’re posting this blog to have the good information from the program available online. Thanks to Pat McNees for compiling these notes, and to all the participants for their contribution.

Panel organizer Ellouise Schoettler, a nationally known storyteller, currently performs two one-woman shows she created about women in the military who served in France during WWI. She has a sign hanging in her office: “Tell your story before someone else does it and gets it wrong.”

Panel organizer Solveig Eggerz’s process for developing true stories is to tell the story first, then write it–or tell, then develop it, then write it.  Important factors in good storytelling are voice, gesture, and facial expression, which she demonstrated. Solveig uses storytelling as a pre-writing activity in her memoir and personal stories workshops

Len Kruger noted that good storytellers avoid self-aggrandisement and pompous language; likeability is important.  He also observed that nobody wants to hear about a happy wedding.  They want to hear a good story about how a wedding went wrong.

Many workshop participants value “writing prompts” as a vehicle for summoning memories to create a particular story.

Professional oral storytellers don’t memorize their stories, says Ellouise. You want to remember “beats” and actions. She quoted Donald Davis as telling people to think of stories as crossing a creek — you need to get six stones across the creek. You need to know what’s supposed to happen — what series of actions occur. You don’t need to remember all the words. Davis offers workshops and has published two books. For more info go

Panelist Jessica Robinson is founder of Better Said Than Done,  a venue for true-story-telling evenings and good storytelling workshops in Fairfax Virginia. Robinson is also author of a novel, Caged, which was recently published. : She said she finds stories through themes and soul-searching, and being on the lookout for stories. For example, if an important occasion goes wrong, think about how you can turn that into a story.

Dario DiBattista noted that It is okay to use bad language, and storytellers can start a sentence with “and.” He also noted the  ways storytellers can use their voices to alter meanings in storytelling, using  “Mary had a little lamb,” to illustrate: MARY had a little lamb, or Mary HAD a little lamb.

Pat McNees uses writing prompts but also encourages her memoir writing students to try to find the names of the people and the stories behind old family photos. These can be particularly helpful if you are trying to collect stories from people who may be shy or inarticulate – whom she interviews at length to get the material to turn into the stories within the story of a memoir. When she is collecting stories from experts, she does NOT (as journalists do) deeply research the subject before an interview; she asks dumb questions (What is an X?) because she wants experts to explain their field in their own language, not assuming that their audience understands the jargon of their field.

The panelists mentioned several other resources:

  • Telling Your Own Storiesby Donald Davis (memory prompts and more)
    • Writing as a Second Language by Donald Davis. From experience to story to prose. When we talk about language arts in our school, we focus on reading and writing instead of nourishing the whole oral and kinesthetic package that is our spoken language. Davis argues that we must step back into our familiar “first” language―the spoken word―as our creative medium and learn to “translate” into that new foreign language called writing. He argues that talking and writing need not be mutually exclusive in language development.

Kevin Allison’s Risk is a podcast of true stories told aloud.

Before people try out for that storytelling venue it is helpful to hear the storytelling training seminar available through his website:

Panelists recommended Neil Hilburn, who tells stories about mental illness, lightening heavy themes with his self-deprecating sense of humor and willingness to not take himself too seriously. He emphasizes the importance of having a range of emotions. One of his stories, OCD, went viral. You can hear it on YouTube:

Panelists recommended the following books:

The Narrative Nonfiction section of Pat MeNees’ website, Writers and Editors, has a partial list of venues for stories told aloud to a live audience:

and another on digital and radio storytelling:

Dario DiBattista leads writing workshops with The Veterans Writing Project. He is editor of a just published anthology Retire the Colors: Veterans & Civilians on Iraq & Afghanistan.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Guest-blogger Solveig Eggerz on 5 Works of Historical Fiction

As a writer of historical fiction myself, when I got the announcement that my fellow American Independent Writer Association member, Solveig Eggerz, was to give a “pubspeak” on history and fiction, I was intrigued. And when I mosied on over to her website,, I was fascinated. The author of the just-released novel, Seal Woman, set in World War II-era Iceland, Solveig Eggerz is a native Icelander with some impressive literary roots. In her own words:

“My great-great grandfather, Friðrik Eggerz, a farmer and a protestant minister, wrote his autobiography when he was in his eighties, a book that documented 19th century Icelandic regional history; my grandfather, Sigurður Eggerz, twice prime minister, wrote plays and essays. My father, Pétur Eggerz, a foreign service officer, wrote fiction and non-fiction until the day he died at age 80.”

I’m about to delve into Seal Woman, which is sure to be good, for none other than Margot Livesey has lauded it as “rich in vivid detail and psychological understanding” and a “beautiful and suspenseful debut.” I was out of town for her “pubspeak,” alas, so I asked her to share with me— and you— some of her thoughts about writing historical fiction. With my warmest thanks, over to you, Solveig!

In reading fiction, I like two different ways of examining the past. One focuses on how the past can pervade the present. Charlotte in my novel, Seal Woman, carries the past within her heart to the point where it guides actions in the present. The other approach involves capturing the essence of the past—but without sacrificing the characters to the details of history.

Two examples of the past pervading the present: A Gesture Life by Chang-rae Lee presents a character who leads a routine life in a California suburb, but his imagination pulsates with violent memories from World War II in Korea, edged by his own culpability.

The Feast of the Goat by Mario Vargas Llosa brings two time periods together, 1961, the year of the assassination of the brutal dictator of the Dominican Republic, Rafael Trujillo, and 1996, the year when a fictional character, a Trujillo victim wreaks revenge on the tyrant. Vargas brings the timelines ever closer until they finally collide, laying bare the unsavory truth.

How did capturing and shackling humans in Africa corrupt the character of the crew members on an 18th century slave ship? Sacred Hunger by Barry Unsworth offers the bitter lesson: “it could have been me” from several points of view.

Charlotte Gray by Sebastian Faulks and Suite Francaise by Irene Nemirovsky both describe German-occupied France in World War II, especially its deadly impact on foreign-born Jews. The difference lies in the author’s proximity to the events. Faulks describes the occupation and the resistance from the hindsight of the present. Nemirovsky records events as they are occurring, ceasing only when the French police knock on her door July 13, 1942. She dies August 17, 1942 in Auschwitz.

—Solveig Eggerz