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Woman, Captain, Rebel

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Member Reviews

Thank you NetGalley, Sourcebooks, and Margaret Willson for a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review! This was a really fascinating book about someone I knew nothing about. I really enjoyed learning about her and the period she lived in. However, it was just a little bit slow at times, but that might just be a problem with me personally and this genre. I recommend checking it out!

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Loved learning about this awesome female sea Captain. I learned a lot. It kept me turning the pages because I had to learn more about her life.

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Added into my favorite author-list. The way she build characters is impressive. The women in her writing becomes as brave as warrior, as charming as princess, as generous as mother, as protective as women. I love it

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Narrative non-fiction at its best. This remarkable story of a remarkable woman tells of Captain Thuridur, born in Iceland at the end of the 18th century, who became an acclaimed and renowned fishing captain, and a significant figure in her local community. It wasn’t that unusual for women to fish along with the men at the time, but it was unusual to reach the position Thuridur did. Her skill and competence were recognised by all, even if there was also rivalry and strong competition. The book reads very much like a novel, but nothing is invented, and it is all based on meticulous research. Although 19th century Iceland was poor, it was nevertheless a literate society and nearly everyone knew how to read, and many to write. Thus the author had a treasure trove of written records to draw on. All the references were there, including many verbatim conversations. As well as being a wonderful biography, it gives a superb insight into 19th century Icelandic life, its culture and sociology, and I learnt a great deal. The writing is vivid and accessible, and I very much enjoyed it.

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Thurídur Einarsdóttir was a fearless woman who lived in Iceland during the 19th century. She was a sailor first and foremost, then grew into the role of captain and fought against inequality and prejudice her whole life. This work examines her life and the lives of those around her, with emphasis not on her sailing but on her struggles on land.

I enjoyed learning about this person in history who I’d never heard about (and would never have without this book). The author did an excellent job characterizing Thurídur and highlighting the known difficulties and challenges that she faced throughout her long life. It was also an interesting look at 19th century Iceland with a focus on women and children.

There were places where I felt the telling of Thurídur’s story became a bit convoluted and difficult to follow. The author’s research was evident, but unfortunately, I think too much of it was incorporated into this read. There were many different instances where the author went on a long, slow tangent about people who were adjacent (or barely adjacent) to Thurídur. Many other discussions of random topics were included, and it was difficult to determine the context of these tangents. This did detract from my enjoyment of the book as well as its overall readability. I think these tales would have been better to be included in an appendix if at all as they did negatively impact the continuity and flow of this book.

I appreciated that the author included a list of major characters in the beginning of the work, which was vital to refer to while I was reading. There’s also a list of references cited in the back of the work, which was greatly appreciated. The author’s research was comprehensive and included many references from several different types of resources.

This was an informative read but wasn’t as focused as it should have been and took some patience to get through. It is recommendable if you’re interested in Iceland during the nineteenth century. My thanks to NetGalley and Sourcebooks for allowing me to read this work. All thoughts and opinions expressed in this review are my own.

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Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for this ARC digital copy. I was not compensated for this review and all opinions are my own.

The subject matter and characters are from a little-known aspect of history. What an amazingly happy accident for the author to stumble on this topic and decide to dig for information!

4 out of 5 stars and much respect to the author.

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This is the story of Thurídur Einarsdóttir, who was born on the Southwest shores of Iceland in the late 1700s. She lived a long life, from 1777 to 1863, and spent all of it in roughly the same region. (Although she did take to traveling in her later years, it was all still within Iceland).

Thurídur was born to a poor family, and while she was very young, the area suffered from a volcanic ash-induced famine. Her dad refused a lodger, as they had no food in the house to offer him, but this was a cardinal sin in their culture. The lodger supposedly cursed his family for nine generations.

And here our story begins.

Despite the curse, Thurídur did fairly well for herself. She learned to fish as a young teen, and developed a knack for being able to read the coming weather. As her fishing skills grew, she became highly sought after as a deckhand, and even outearned many men on her boats. She was eventually hired to captain other people’s boats, even, and was trusted among the boat owners and the fishermen (and women) under her care. In fact, in 52 years of fishing, it is said that she never lost a crew member.

While she did not have much trouble getting her crew to respect her knowledge of the sea, she still did face some discrimination in life. She was known to wear trousers everywhere except to church, and later she added a top hat to her ensemble (just because she liked it!). She also did a lot of farming when it was the season for it, and could scythe hay with the strongest of men. So of course, some were put off by her way of living.

She was married a few times, and had one daughter who died in childhood. She later adopted her sister’s daughter, who was disabled. In her later years, she spent all of her money trying to make sure her niece would be taken care of after her own death… and that niece did live to be 89 years old!

We spend a lot of time in her home village getting to know all the townspeople, as she does interact with them constantly – both on land and at sea. So by the time a very brazen robbery happens, we have established that Thurídur knows everyone. A county commissioner is sent to town to investigate, and – not knowing the townspeople himself – immediately pushes her for her thoughts on it. (This set-up definitely made me think of the BBC’s “Broadchurch.” Anyone else?) She doesn’t want to implicate her friends, but starts pointing out clues the commissioner missed. This leads to confessions, and four area men being sent to prison in Denmark (which ruled over Iceland at the time).

After the convictions, Thurídur has a tougher time with her neighbors. Several make threats, and someone even goes so far as to set fire to a boat in her care. She still has many allies, also, and they try to help her. Eventually, she is forced to move to a bigger city nearby, where she starts out working in a shop. She also starts acting as a tour guide, leading travelers through the nearby mountains to other villages and cities. She remains lively and sharp into old age, but ultimately ends up destitute anyway (because she spends all her money on her niece).

This is a great story, and well written. There is drama, action, and politics.

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"Woman, Captain, Rebel" is an inspiring nonfiction book by Margaret Willson, a cultural anthropologist. This carefully researched book of Captain Thuridur’s life, covering the late 18th and early 19th century, details Icelandic life and reflects on the changing role of women in Icelandic society. Willson’s writing was captivating and engaging, and the story flowed seamlessly.

Captain Thuridur started fishing when she was young and rose to become one of Iceland’s most famous and successful captains. She was an incredible woman who fought for human rights and dignity and challenged the status quo regarding women’s rights and equality. Her mental acuity helped the local authorities solve a robbery they likely would not have solved without Thuridur’s assistance. Willson weaves in local customs and beliefs, family history, and Danish and Icelandic laws and politics. This was a thoroughly captivating book. I plan on reading Willson’s other books.

Thank you to NetGalley and Sourcebooks for the ARC!

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Woman, Captain, Rebel is for readers interested in real life examples of adventure, grit, and determination and interesting historical figures. It is always fascinating to find accounts of people to whom history often turned a blind eye who, in this case, is an Icelandic female captain.
Captain Thuridur's life gives insight into life in Iceland in the 1700s, the life of a fishing captain, how the people of Iceland survived under the harsh governance of Denmark-Norway, and the enduring vagaries of humanity. The author does an excellent job of making people from hundreds of years ago recognizable as people you might encounter today. She writes about Captain Thuridur with an obvious interest and respect that makes this story a delight to read. I recommend this book for readers of history, travel, biography, and adventure.

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Interesting historical account of a strong woman in 18th century Iceland determined to be on a commercial fishing crew, and eventually captained fishing boats as successfully, or more so, than her male counterparts. History, and life, was not kind to her, but Willson surfeits out the truth behind this remarkable woman and gives her the memory she deserves. Immensely readable, it held my interest to the end.

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This was a fascinating book!. I enjoyed the Icelandic setting and the story of a bad-ass woman making her way in 19th century Iceland. Well-researched and well-written, this book reads like an adventure novel. Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for the ARC.

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Thanks to NetGalley and SOURCEBOOKS for an egalley in exchange for an honest review.

If you are looking for a well-researched, informative, and entertaining nonfiction read about a woman who led an extraordinary life, look no further than this one. Author Margaret Wilson introduces readers to Iceland's Captain Thurídur, a woman that left her mark in the late 18th and early 19th century. Oftentimes, we hear about women who felt constricted by the laws and moral ideologies towards women, and yet Thurídur accomplished so much. I found her to be a truly fascinating person. My only complaint and why I take off a star is because there were times when the book focuses its narrative on other people that I was less interested in.

Publication Date 10/01/23
Goodreads Review Published 10/01/23

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But a very interesting book I learned a lot about Icelandic history but this woman named THURIDO Or was a very courageous woman In her time. She stood up to the men on the island During the Wait Seventeen hundred And the early 1800s. She had to face a lot of problems and courageous and stuff and I learned a lot about Even in a male dominant area. She is awesome with amazing farmhand as well. There's interesting how she looked at marriage and how that did not work out for her. She was also very courageous too she bought for people who needed help. She also wrote to Denmark For help and they do not help her all. She looked out for specially the women on the island who did not have much of a voice. And she wrote she was the captain of the boats and she never lost anybody because she had a special prayer when they went out. This book is also like He murmured the street because these were ghosts as well In the book and these ghosts were originally real people who Do not get help And who died eventually. There was a lot of starvation on the On the island.. These islandic people were very strong and Knew how to survive. The fishing was the most important because they based that economy on that Had to farm as well because they needed t Provide food for the animals and for themselves. THURDO Was very useful and she would do everything to keep herself going with no man in sight.. She had to fight a lot of people as well because they were very angry all the time ever. But she always but she always Made it through She was very smart in the brain. She also took care of her people she who needed help..

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This biography captures so many excursions depicting strength, courage and renewal. With each cut-level of Thuridur Einarsdottir, she came back stronger revealing an inner strength and will for others like no other. The story takes place from 1770-1863 at a time when women's rights were not even a topic, she made it one. Defying the odds to become Iceland's most famous and resilient female sea captain, Thuridur defied society with her women's rights movements. Not only did she fight for acceptance, but also helped those who could not defend themselves, such as the weak, elderly and young that were pushed aside.

Fishing at 11 years old, Thuridur wearing trousers took care of her family. Epic occurrences with mother nature spoiled the lands and affected the community's livelihood. In 1783, a volcano erupted filling the grasslands with ash and lava. In 1799, a flood destroyed homes and farms, as well as the cattle and feed. In 1846, measles ravished the land. After so much destruction, Thuridur persevered with her work ethic, strong-willed and carefully driven on the seas that even OSHA would be proud of today....Never losing a crew member.

A lot of meticulous research into phenomenal events and history of society vs women with controversial and unconventional standards rolled this book into an outstanding historical nonfiction. Great work from Margaret Willson!
Thank you NetGalley and Sourceboooks (Nonfiction) for this incredible ARC in exchange for my honest review!

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My thanks to both NetGalley and the publisher Sourcebooks for an advanced copy of this biography and history featuring a remarkable woman living her life on her terms in a very dangerous profession.

Iceland sounds like a wonderful place to visit, but it seems like a terrible place to try and survive in especially over two hundred years ago. A lack of trees to burn, grass to feed animals, animals in general, the cold, the snow, volcanos, earthquakes and more. The sea supplied food, but the currents were treacherous, the cold waters could kill quicker than drowning, and the weather could turn at the drop of an oar. To captain a fishing boat took skill in both weather and currents. Strength to pull in fish, and strength to keep the crew in line, and to deal with the owners. Captains had to be trusted by their men, and few could keep up the pressure filled job for long. Captain Thuridur was one of those people. Not just a captain, but a farmer known for growing in difficult terrain, and most of all a woman. Women were known to crew ships, but only only was a Captain, who wore trousers, helped others, and kept her crew save, and in fish. Woman, Captain, Rebel: The Extraordinary True Story of a Daring Icelandic Sea Captain by Margaret Willson tells the fascinating story of this brave Captain her life, her troubles and how she was nearly lost to time.

At the ripe old age of eleven Thuridur, one of three children finally pushed her father enough to let her go out with him on his boat for a day of fishing. Women fishing was not common, but considering the harshness of life in Iceland, everyone was needed to help with food gathering. Thuridur was a natural, pulling in the most fish, never complaining, and had a gift for both reading water, and more importantly seeing where it was best to drop lines. Soon she was a valuable member of the crew, and after the death of her father and the marriage of her brother, she was in demand crew member. Offered the captaincy of a new boat she immediately found crew, and took the lead in gathering fish, and keeping her crew safe. However things on land were not as smooth as on the seas. Family problems, men problems, and soon her involvement in solving a crime began to make life difficult in her small town.

An amazing story about an amazing life. There are people who live life on their own terms, but not many seem happy to their last days like Thuridur did. Captain, farmer, wife- sorta, guide problem solver, amateur sleuth, clerk. What a fascinating life. Wilson is a great writer who puts the reader right into the story and never lets the narrative drag. The opening really surprises the reader, but sets up a lot of the story and the ideas of the people involved. Thuridur is a true character, smart, funny, sad, but never broken, or defeated by anything life throws at her. To think her life might never have been discussed or known is horrible. Iceland is another character, cold, unforgiving and yet important in many ways. The book is well sourced with lots of information about Iceland, fishing, water, ice, ghosts, religion. There is truly a lot her, and yet the book is so readable that the text never seems like a lecture, just parts of Thuridur's story.

One of the best and most interesting biographies I have read in awhile. So much information, and such a great portrait of a fascinating woman. They don't make people enough like Thuridur, and it was a pleasure to meet her. Recommended for people who love good biographies, people with an interest in Iceland and the role of women who have been pushed aside by history. Also I would suggest this book for writers both fiction and nonfiction. Fiction writers can learn how to create a setting for both fantasy and science fiction novels, create an economy, religion, caring for families, occupations and how to handle hiring. And nonfiction writers to see how good nonfiction can be.

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Rule Breaker: A Book Review of Woman, Captain, Rebel: The Extraordinary True Story of a Daring Icelandic Sea Captain

I had never heard of Thurídur Einarsdóttir before until I read Margaret Willson’s impressive biography, Woman, Captain, Rebel: The Extraordinary True Story of a Daring Icelandic Sea Captain, courtesy of NetGalley. Mrs. Willson has brought to light the story of a strong woman unknown to the world, who braved the soaring waves and freezing Atlantic waters to fish. She has conducted phenomenal and meticulous research, but she is also passionate about her subject. She enlisted a village of professionals, research assistants, and friends to comb through historical documents, photographs, and publications for details on Captain Thurídur’s life and the Icelandic fishing community during Thurídur’s times.

The book opens with an explanation of why Mrs. Willson wrote this book. She was on a trip to Iceland with her friend when she discovered Captain Thurídur’s reconstructed fishing hut. She was shocked to find out that Thurídur was a woman fishing captain, and she wondered how she became one at a time when society rejected female leadership. Ever since, she was haunted with questions, and a quest to find answers led to the writing of this story.

The book has 32 chapters written in chronological order spanning from 1770 to 1863. The story opens with the eruption of mountain Hell in 1783 that brought destruction, hunger, and death to the Icelanders, and with Móri, a male ghost that haunted Thurídur’s descendants for nine generations. Five years after the eruption, when Thurídur was 11 years old, her father took her on her first fishing trip. Ever since, she was hooked.
When her father died, Thurídur and her brother had no choice but to join forces and fish to survive. Thurídur was proven to be clear-sighted, feisty, confident, and observant in reading the weather. People liked her and trusted her advice. They watched her grow into a young woman “peculiar and different” (p. 31), who wore pants at sea and for farm work. It was obvious to all that she had paved her own path and didn’t care what others thought about it. Over the years, she worked as a crewmember for other fishing captains before she became a captain herself for the first time on Pastor Jakob’s eight-oared boat. She also managed to lease Gata, a small run-down farm, which she transformed into a well-maintained and productive farm.

In her personal life, Thurídur didn’t have much luck with men. Her first “husband” turned out to be an alcoholic. Her second “husband” believed false rumors that she had gotten pregnant with his half-brother’s child. Her third husband, blackmailed her into marrying him (she later divorced him.) Thurídur had a daughter with her second “husband’ who became ill and died at the age of five. Her grief made her foster, and later adopt, her sister’s “invalid imbecile” child (p.86), a three-year-old girl, dirty and covered with rashes and lice. Thurídur took good care of the child who grew up to be a chattering and intelligent girl. She also cared for her elderly mother who was ignored and neglected by her siblings.

Through her leadership skills and intelligence, Thurídur earned many friends who supported her when she needed them, such as Pastor Jacob who made her captain to his boat. But these same qualities also made her many enemies, such as the stingy Captain Jón Rich. He had betrayed her when he didn’t lend her money to buy a cow as he had promised her. Another enemy was CC Thórdur who took all the credit after Thurídur had helped him solve a robbery case.

When she was 63 years old, she gave up being a fishing captain and moved to Hafnarfjördur. A friend made her a shopkeeper and a lodger. Later, she became a traveler and a travel guide on dangerous missions. She petitioned the Danish government three times for a pension, but the government ignored her. She died on November 13, 1863. After her death, technological advancements in Iceland drove women out of the fisheries.
This motivational biography of Captain Thurídur touches on many universal themes: marriage and family life, treatment of the elderly, gender roles, societal laws and superstitions, to name a few. It was interesting to learn how these themes applied to Thurídur’s life. For example:

a) Only landowners and farm-leaseholders could wed. That’s why, many men married older women, usually widows who had inherited a leasehold farm from their dead husbands. Such marriages helped both parties: the woman would have a free farmhand, and the man would be the new leaseholder. When a man wedded, by law, his wife became his possession, and no one could interfere, no matter how badly he treated her. Some couples would live together without being married. Although the Icelandic authorities frowned upon such arrangements, they tolerated it as long as the couple had a leasehold farm to sustain themselves. Thurídur was smart enough to live with her first two men without being married to them.

b) Single women were usually unable to support their family alone. Accordingly, the authorities separated such families in order to avoid having to support them. The mothers would work as contracted farmhands and the children would be auctioned off to a farmer, unless someone could foster them. These children officially became paupers with no protection or personal rights. Often, they were humiliated, abused, and beaten until they either became disabled or died. That’s why, after their father died, Thurídur and her brother took up fishing to support their mother and sister.

c) Older people who depended on their adult children were often maltreated. Caring for older parents meant providing food and servants to look after them, when you could barely feed your own family. Elderly people who had no offspring or family ties most likely ended up becoming paupers. Thurídur was the only one of her siblings who took care of their aged mother. Thurídur was blessed with good health and the strength to continue working in her old age until the day she died.

d) Thurídur asserted her independence by using the court system to fight for her rights. She sued her wrongdoers such as Ólafur Jónsson who had insulted and threatened her through his speech and writings. She also sued on behalf of others, particularly abused women.

Besides learning about Icelandic society in Thurídur's times, I also liked how Mrs. Willson weaved historical events into the narrative. Some examples are:

a) The 1783 Hell eruption. It started off with a blue haze that covered the earth in late May of that year. During early June, the locals felt earthquakes rattle the ground and witnessed flames shoot thousands of feet into the air. This lasted eight months bringing widespread famine because the volcanic ash from the eruption had poisoned the land and the sea. Crops, animals, fish, and people died in the thousands. The sad thing was that Denmark's King did not offer any aid at all to the Icelanders.

b) The Great Flood of January 9, 1799. That night, when everyone was asleep, a storm ripped through the land, flooding farmhouses and storage buildings. Local residents battled the storm to save what they could. But between the strong winds and the floods that washed out their belongings, they did not stand a chance. The flood caused miles of devastation, death to many farm animals, and destruction of many boats.

c) The measles epidemic of 1846. In May of that year, “a European sailing ship arrived at Hafnarfjördur carrying some Danes infected with measles” (p. 237). Icelanders had no vaccination against measles, and so the virus spread quickly everywhere. By the time this epidemic died down in December, it had killed 2 percent of Iceland’s entire population.

Mrs. Willson’s fishing background was invaluable to this book. She spent much of her youth in a small fishing community on the Oregon Coast, where she worked as a deckhand on a salmon boat. Later, she fished for rock lobsters and dived for abalone. Armed with hands-on fishing experience and painstaking research, she crafted the captivating account of Captain Thurídur’s life.

Thurídur Einarsdóttir was a highly respected seawoman captain who was renowned not only for her fishing and weather-reading abilities, but also for her observational skills. She had a stellar reputation for being independent, clever, strong-willed, compassionate, and clear-sighted. Her leadership skills were an example of bravery and courage that I admire. Historians, fishing fans, and women readers will find her story inspirational. This book will make an excellent movie adaptation too.

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Wow what an amazing woman! And what an outstanding account of her life and times!

I’m so glad I read this meticulously researched narrative non-fiction account of the remarkable Thurídur Einarsdottír. Born in 1777 in the Stokkseyri region of Iceland, she survived the volcanic eruption of 1783 that caused many to die of starvation as ash fell for many months, poisoning the crops, also killing the sheep and cattle and the fish in the rivers. It was around this time that a young boy came to Thurídur's father, Einar begging for food. Starving themselves, Einar turned him away and as he left he cursed the family with bad luck for nine generations before dying shortly afterwards. His ghost makes many appearances in this tale and does indeed seem to curse members of the family.

At the age of 11 Thurídur started fishing on her father’s boat, (which was not unusual for women at the time), eventually going on to become a sea fishing captain of great renown. She always made the best catches, was kind and fair to her crew and could read the weather such that she never lost a boat or a crewman even in the most dangerous of situations. She was renowned as an exceptional seawoman, being able to read the sea and avoid the dangers of the shoreline that damaged so many other boats.

However, Thurídur was so much more than a fishing captain. From wearing the same type of weatherproof trousers as the men, rather than several layers of long skirts, while fishing she took to wearing trousers all the time and she didn’t feel obliged to take on the traditional role of housewife. Despite being such a successful fisherwoman, Thurídur had a hard life. She would fluctuate between being well off (for the times) to being destitute but she never gave up. She always found a way back, and along the way she helped and cared for others, looking after her mother and a sickly niece when her brothers families wouldn’t. She generally got on well with people, although one former wealthy friend would force her to move away from her village, and she would help those who had been wronged to seek justice.

The book also explores the lives of the people around Thurídur, the wealthier boat owners and farmers and those who worked for them so it’s also a fascinating snapshot of the social history of nineteenth century Iceland, and in particular the way women were treated, even those who worked as hard as men. The narrative is written with warmth and a touch of humour and tells a lively tale of an intelligent woman, ahead of her time. The author’s note on how she first heard of Thurídur and her journeys to Iceland to discover more also make for interesting reading. (I would also have loved to see photos of some of the places she mentions of being of importance to Thurídur). I heartily recommend this to all lovers of historical non-fiction.

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nonfiction, Iceland, women-in-history, women-s-rights, women-s-equality, sailing-ship, sea-captain, historical-places-events, historical-research, historical-figures, history-and-culture, late-18th-century, lore, cultural-anthropology, cultural-differences, cultural-exploration, cultural-heritage, family, relatives, relationships, biography*****

Enter the land of ice and fire with its dependence on the icy sea and threatened by storms, earthquakes, and volcanic activity. Into this harsh environment with laws and traditions unchanged for centuries was a woman who was as excellent in fishing as she was at farming but hobbled by her gender. Probably no worse than others of her gender but far less willing to accept it for herself. Meticulous research and a cohesive presentation make this a truly readably yet scholarly book. An excellent read!
I requested and received an EARC from Sourcebooks via NetGalley. Thank you!

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This book is basically Forrest Gump, only the main character is a woman, born in Iceland in the 1700s, and doesn't fight in any wars. I mean this in the most positive way possible.

Woman, Captain, Rebel follows the life of Thuridur Einarsdóttir. She was a woman born in Iceland in 1777. She would lead an amazing life which saw her become a sea captain, landholder, repeated litigant, shop worker, and probably a few other things I am missing. Very often, authors will hold up a person as having a varied and exceptional life. Thuridur truly did and what made it even more extraordinary is that she very often ended up destitute and clawed her way back.

More than just a biography, this is the story of a small Icelandic town and their way of life. In just telling Thuridur's story, Margaret Willson actually writes a very strong history of Iceland and vividly portrays the challenges of their day to day lives. This book has a lot going for it and it never seemed to slow down.

(This book was provided to me as an advance copy by Netgalley and Sourcebooks. The full review will be posted to on 1/10/2023.)

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Thank you to the publishers and NetGalley for this ARC!

I'm always a big fan of narrative non-fiction and the subject matter of Woman, Captain, Rebel certainly caught my eye. The author did a great job of telling a chronological story as factually as possible. I could easily see the story of Captain Thuridur making a great movie or epic mini-series one day. The story is compelling and, given that it takes place in such a harsh climate, makes Thuridur's achievements and independence even more satisfying!

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