Eliza Reid, "Secrets of the Sprakkar: What the Outstanding Women of Iceland Know about Equality" (Sourcebooks, 2022)


In the past decade, adventurous travelers have flocked to the island nation of Iceland to enjoy its many wonders: stunning nature and wildlife, innovative and unique cuisine, a compelling history that includes Vikings, and the rich literary tradition rooted in the Icelandic Sagas, which is still vibrantly alive today in this well read nation.

Once in Iceland, travelers may also note that Iceland has one of the happiest populations with one of the highest rates of acceptance for LGBTQIA individuals, and with no military, Iceland is also one of the more peaceful nations on the planet.

Iceland is also a great place to be a woman in 2022. Just how and why that is, and whether Iceland’s proximity to gender parity can serve as a model for other nations, is explored in a marvelous new book by Iceland’s current first lady, Canadian born Eliza Reid. “Secrets of the Sprakkar Iceland’s Extraordinary Women and How They Are Changing the World” explores Iceland’s unique history, people, politics, and of course nature, and how these have enabled women to pursue the equality that they know to be their right.

In the pages of Secrets of the Sprakkar: What the Outstanding Women of Iceland Know about Equality (Sourcebooks, 2022), Reid introduces us to several extraordinary “sprakkar” or powerful women. This is an ancient Icelandic word that perfectly describes the pioneering politicians, medieval heroines, stand-up comedians, fishermen, search and rescue team leaders, and immigrants to Iceland, like Reid herself who populate the book. As Reid delves into the stories of these extraordinary women, she tells her own story of immigrating to Iceland for love, having a family, and forging her own professional path as the founder of the Popular Iceland Writers Retreat.

Life threw Reid and her husband Guðni Jóhannesson a curve ball in 2016: Jóhannesson, a professor of history, was invited to be a pundit on Icelandic TV in the run up to the presidential election following the explosive Panama Papers. And then, as Reid recounts, the phone began to ring. Jóhannesson was elected president and Reid assumed the very public role of First Lady. In “Secrets of the Sprakkar,” she muses about the oddity of the role, but her decision to embrace it with dignity and enthusiasm. She speaks eloquently about how it is important for Iceland’s growing community of immigrants to hear her speak in public forums with an accent, just as they do, and know that what she — and they — have to say is important.

“Secrets of the Sprakkar” is a slim volume that packs a big punch: part history, part political science, rooted in social observation of a society that has actively pursued gender parity and may well be closing in on it. But above all, this is a love letter to Iceland, from its still-besotted First Lady.

Eliza Reid is a Canadian-Icelandic writer, co-founder of Iceland Writers Retreat, and has been Iceland’s First Lady since 2016. Reid was educated at the University of Toronto and Oxford University.

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Jennifer Eremeeva

Jennifer Eremeeva is an American expatriate writer who writes about travel, culture, cuisine and culinary history, Russian history, and Royal History, with bylines in Reuters, Fodor's, USTOA, LitHub, The Moscow Times, and Russian Life.

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