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Secrets of the Sprakkar

Iceland's Extraordinary Women and How They Are Changing the World

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About The Book

The Canadian first lady of Iceland pens a book about why this tiny nation is leading the charge in gender equality, in the vein of The Moment of Lift.

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?

Like influential and progressive first ladies Eleanor Roosevelt, Hillary Rodham Clinton, and Michelle Obama, Reid uses her platform to bring the best of her nation to the world. Secrets of the Sprakkar is a powerful and atmospheric portrait of a tiny country that could lead the way forward for us all.

About The Author

Photograph by Kristín Bogadóttir

Eliza Reid is a journalist, editor, and cofounder 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.

Product Details

  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster (February 1, 2022)
  • Length: 288 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781982174040

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Raves and Reviews

“A fascinating window into what a more gender-equal world could look like, and why it’s worth striving for. Iceland is doing a lot to level the playing field: paid parental leave, affordable childcare, and broad support for gender equality as a core value. Reid takes us on an exploration not only around this fascinating island, but also through the triumphs and stumbles of a country as it journeys towards gender equality.”

“A warm and intimate exploration of what one small country can teach the world about gender equality. Eliza Reid charts her personal journey from a Canadian farm to Iceland’s Presidential Residence and along the way proves to be the best possible guide to the historical, geographical and cultural factors that helped women thrive and built a vibrant modern society.”
GERALDINE BROOKS, Pulitzer Prize–winning author

“With warmth, wit, and insight, First Lady Eliza Reid explores the reasons why Iceland is one of the best places on earth for women, as well as the challenges still ahead in achieving full gender equity. Secrets of the Sprakkar is an illuminating, inspiring, and absorbing book about how a more equitable society could elevate us all.”
CHERYL STRAYED, author of the #1 New York Times bestselling memoir Wild

“Iceland is full of extraordinary women, and in this delightful and engaging book Eliza Reid will introduce you to many of them. Prepare to be charmed and enlightened by the sprakkar, and their secrets for living meaningful and fulfilling lives. And don’t be surprised if you find yourself booking a trip to visit.”
ELIZABETH RENZETTI, journalist and author of Shrewed

“The fact that the Icelandic language includes the word ‘sprakkar’—an ancient term that translates to mean ‘extraordinary women’—in its lexicon tells you a great deal about the country of Iceland. And in her marvelous memoir, Eliza Reid tells us a great deal more: not only about her life in Iceland, but also about gender equality in action, and the sense of purpose that all of us seek. This is a charming and necessary book.”
MEG WOLITZER, New York Times bestselling author of The Female Persuasion

“What a fun read! Eliza Reid’s love letter to Iceland is, by turn, quirky, charming, surprisingly honest, always eye-opening, and highly entertaining. And though it deals with serious topics, it does so with a light touch and a wonderfully readable style. A perfect mix of memoir and current affairs. I can’t recommend Secrets of the Sprakkar enough, especially to guys, to understand how equality and women’s rights are in everyone’s best interest. We’re all in this together, after all.”
WILL FERGUSON, Giller Prize–winning author

“Charting her own love of the nation and her journey to becoming its First Lady, alongside histories of other formidable women, Eliza Reid’s Secrets of the Sprakkar sheds light on Iceland’s unique approach to gender equity—an emblematic look at what’s possible in the fight for women’s rights worldwide. A fascinating, hopeful, and inspiring read.”
ESI EDUGYAN, two-time Giller Prize–winning author

“A breath of fresh Icelandic air! Eliza Reid crafts a highly original, warm, and honest journey into the heart of the small Nordic island nation and its rich culture and history, creating an empowering read on how striving for equality can improve everyone’s lives.”
KATJA PANTZAR, author of The Finnish Way

“Everyone who visits Iceland quickly learns that the little country contains some of the world’s most extraordinary women, their lives rooted in a social and political culture that nurtures equality between men and women without ignoring the pleasures and complexities of family life. It’s a pleasure to see that culture marked out for us through the sometimes wry but always beautifully personal and perceptive lens of the remarkable Eliza Reid.”
ADAM GOPNIK, author and staff writer for The New Yorker

“What a world of possibilities Eliza Reid unveils in this warm and wonderful book! It made me want to pack my bags and move to Iceland.”
RUTH REICHL, author of Save Me the Plums

“Both inspiring and wholly entertaining. And Reid is a wonderful writer. I loved this book.”
MARCELLO DI CINTIO, author of Walls, winner of the Shaughnessy Cohen Prize for Political Writing

“This is a fascinating and wryly-observed account of the trajectory of Icelandic women. Reid traces the links between Iceland’s high quality public child care and entrepreneurship, between the embrace of families and the championing of strong individual women, and between a rugged landscape and a forward-looking, adaptable society. This important book will stimulate persons of all genders to work towards a richer and more inclusive world.”
VINCENT LAM, Giller Prize–winning author

“An intimate and inspiring glimpse into a better world for women—and for us all. Eliza Reid’s Iceland is utterly captivating.”
ALISON PICK, Man Booker Prize–nominated author of Far to Go

“Laced with frank discussions of domestic abuse, intersectionality, and other complex issues, [Secrets of the Sprakkar] is a winning portrait of a country at the forefront of the fight for gender equality.”
Publishers Weekly

“Writing from her unanticipated perch as First Lady of the tiny Nordic country, [Reid] uses this memoir to explain how, in her view, Iceland has come closer than any other place in the world to clutching the brass ring of gender equality.”
The Globe and Mail

“Each time I visit Iceland I leave wondering just what it is that makes this forward-thinking nation so magical. Secrets of the Sprakkar answers that question and many more. It is a road map to a better society. Such an important book should not be this enjoyable a read. It left me feeling that a better world is possible.”
MARK CRITCH, author of Son of a Critch and An Embarrassment of Critch’s

“Iceland’s First Lady, Eliza Reid, beautifully illuminates her adopted nation’s enlightened journey towards gender equality—a practical, principled, and progressive path that should be a model for the world. Initially an outsider from Canada, Reid skillfully interprets Iceland’s history and culture, and recounts her own experiences to make this story even more compelling and inspiring. A moving celebration of equality and a blueprint for other nations.”
TERRY FALLIS, two-time winner of the Stephen Leacock Medal for Humour

“It often takes someone who was once an outsider to see a country as no one else can see it. Weaving in her own story as an immigrant, journalist and ‘First Lady’ Eliza Reid takes us on a skillfully woven journey that embraces rich aspects of the true herstory of women, from medieval legend to the day in 1975 when Iceland’s women went on strike, to the stories and voices of contemporary athletes, artists, poets, musicians, corporate leaders, farmers, and the survivors of domestic violence. Secrets of the Sprakkar is a delightful and inspiring evocation of a beautiful country, filled with spirited insights and fascinating stories the rest of the world can use.”
MARIA MUTCH, author of Molly Falls to Earth

“Reading Secrets of the Sprakkar is like sitting down with your favourite, smartest, warmest girlfriend and hearing all about the extraordinary women, history, and culture of her tiny adopted country. Reid celebrates Iceland and its attitudes toward women while also discussing where it has some room for improvement. By the time I finished this book, I felt I had traveled to Iceland and gotten to know its beauty and quirks and, most importantly, its sprakkar.”
ANN HOOD, bestselling author

“The book is peppered with lively personal anecdotes about Reid’s life as first lady, interviews with notable local women, and observations about daily life in the beautiful country . . . It’s interesting to hear so directly and unguardedly from an active first lady.”
The Kit

“[A] delightful love letter to [Reid’s] adopted nation, in which she employs an engaging blend of reportage and memoir.”
Quill & Quire

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