Cindy Vallar, Editor & Reviewer
P.O. Box 425, Keller, TX 76244-0425
Books for Adults - Nonfiction
July 1627. Ships are sighted in waters around Iceland. With Danish warships still to arrive, the villagers can do little to stop the Barbary corsairs who come ashore in search of slaves. Among the 4,000 captured are Reverend Ólafur Egilsson, his pregnant wife, and two young sons. Once at the slave market, he is separated from his family, and while they remain in Algiers, his captors free him to secure the ransom money. In his sixties, he travels by foot and boat through Europe to Denmark, but unable to raise the money, he arrives in Iceland almost a year later. A decade passes before 35 slaves are ransomed; only 27 of whom successfully survive the journey home.
After his return to Iceland, Egilsson wrote about this event, known in Iceland as the Tyrkjaránið (the Turkish Raid), but it has never been accessible to those unfamiliar with Icelandic. Now translated into English, his tale brings to life the horrors of that raid – one conducted not just by men born and raised in Algiers and Salé (Morocco), but also by Europeans who renounced their faith to join the ranks of the corsairs of North Africa and the Ottoman Empire. His story also tells of the voyage to Algiers, the devastating and humiliating experiences of being sold into slavery, his religious turmoil, and his travels and struggles to secure the necessary ransom to rescue his family and friends. In addition, he talks about the people and countries that he visited, providing readers with rare glimpses of 17th-century customs, religions, and ways of life.
To complement Egilsson’s work, the editors include five translated letters. One is a sheriff’s account of the raid; the others are from slaves. Maps and images are interspersed throughout the book, which also includes an index, suggestions for further reading, and four appendices. The latter contains information about Algiers, Salé, and Iceland at the time in which the Icelanders were taken; the sources used in translating the manuscript, which survives only as copies and copies of copies; and aspects of early modern Europe (famous people, religious and historical events, publications, and science) in Egilsson’s lifetime.
Footnotes enhance readers’ understanding of unfamiliar elements within the narrative. They sometimes provide help with pronunciation and compare Egilsson’s account with first-person accounts from contemporaries, such as Father Pierre Dan, a Trinitarian friar who redeemed captives in Algiers. The introduction gives an excellent grounding in events leading up to the attack and the world in which Egilsson lived. If Hreinsson and Nichols know what happened to any of the captives, they editors supply this information as well.
A seamless and riveting translation, The Travels of Reverend Ólafur Egilsson goes far beyond a mere sharing of experiences at the hands of the Barbary corsairs. This haunting account opens our modern eyes to the realities of the past and shows us that we’re not the only ones who struggle to overcome tragedy, adversity, and heartache.
Book Review Copyright ©2017 Cindy Vallar
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