Review By Gabrielle

Eliza Reid’s book, Secrets of the Sprakkar should be required reading for anyone interested in social justice.

Favourite Quote:

Growing up with strong female role models, in their own lives and in the public sphere, has had a nourishing effect on many of the nation’s female leaders of today. In turn, they mirror our aspirations for gender equality, serving as role models for the power brokers of tomorrow.

Goodreads Synopsis: 

Iceland is the best place on earth to be a woman—but why?

For the past twelve years, the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report has ranked Iceland number one on its list of countries closing the gap in equality between men and women. What is it about Iceland that enables its society to make such meaningful progress in this ongoing battle, from electing the world’s first female president to passing legislation specifically designed to help even the playing field at work and at home?

The answer is found in the country’s sprakkar, an ancient Icelandic word meaning extraordinary or outstanding women.

Eliza Reid—Canadian born and raised, and now first lady of Iceland—examines her adopted homeland’s attitude toward women: the deep-seated cultural sense of fairness, the influence of current and historical role models, and, crucially, the areas where Iceland still has room for improvement. Throughout, she interviews dozens of sprakkar to tell their inspirational stories, and expertly weaves in her own experiences as an immigrant from small-town Canada. The result is an illuminating discussion of what it means to move through the world as a woman and how the rules of society play more of a role in who we view as equal than we may understand.

What makes many women’s experiences there so positive? And what can we learn about fairness to benefit our society?

Canadian born Eliza is in a unique position of being an outsider in a role that definitely puts her on the inside of Icelandic life as First Lady. From that perspective, she examines all the factors that have contributed to Iceland being one of the best countries on the planet to be a woman. From the country’s history to their current policy, she breaks it all down for readers. I learned so much about Iceland reading this book and I’m confident you will too.

Beyond being an enlightening book, Eliza’s writing is highly entertaining. I couldn’t help but get sucked into the stories of everyday Icelandic women who are making a difference. They don’t see themselves as heroes, they are just doing what they feel is right to make their communities better and improve the outcomes for future generations.

Now before you go thinking that everything is rosy and perfect in Iceland for women, Eliza also identifies several areas for development. I liked that she also included this perspective. It helps us as readers relate more to what’s happening there and that even in Iceland, there are still places where improvements can still be made. 

Perhaps one of the best things about this book is that it is actionable. People in other countries can learn from Iceland and put into practice the lessons contained therein. Here in North America, some things may feel untranslatable; we don’t have epic sagas featuring incredible women leaders for example, but can learn to let women have autonomy over their bodies and sexuality, to focus on empowering women to start businesses, to elect more women in politics and advance them to other leadership roles, and encourage networks between women for mutual support.

Both insightful and engaging, you won’t be sorry you picked up Secrets of the Sprakkar by Eliza Reid.