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Chris Melnick: Reads & Watches

May 1, 2022

[Editor's note: Chris Melnick is the Executive Director of Share the Magic Book Program, which is a federally registered charity that distributes books, from books for babies to adults, fiction and non-fiction to underserved communities in Manitoba.  To date, Share the Magic has given away over 630,000 books at an estimated value of over $4.2 million. You can follow Share the Magic on Facebook by searching "Share the Magic Book Program"]


Intrepid Woman



        The books that I have chosen for this column are about intrepid women, characterized by resolute fearlessness, fortitude, and endurance.  They are women who have travelled far for very different reasons, to very different places on earth and in very different times.  What they do have in common is their strength and stick-to-it-ness.  As the English might say, “They have the jam.”


        The first book is “The Far Traveler: voyages of a Viking woman, by Nancy Marie Brown.  By dancing through the Icelandic sagas, it follows the travels of Gudrid Thorbjarnardottir, born in the late 10th century. She is described as both beautiful and fierce, depending on the version of the sagas you read.  In all, it is believed that Gudrid made 7 voyages during her lifetime.  The first from Iceland to Greenland, several to Vinland and her final voyage, to Rome.  Born in Iceland in the late 900’s, she moved to Greenland with her father, a chieftain, as a young woman to accompany Eirik the Red, on her first voyage to Vinland.  After the passing of her first husband, Gudrid married Thorstein Eiriksson, Leif Eiriksson's younger brother and Eirik the Red’s, who discovered Vinland, son. According to the Saga of the Greenlanders, Gudrid then accompanied her husband on his quest to Vinland and this was her first journey there. 

        A journey of particular importance came some years later, when, with her third husband, Thirfinn Karlsefni, Gudrid gave birth to the first European to be born in the Western Hemisphere, a little boy named Snorri. 

        Gudrid held special significance for me, as it is believed that, also with her third husband, Gudrid spent time at l’anse aux meadows (meaning Jellyfish Cove), a UNESCO World Heritage site at the northern tip of Newfoundland, settled by Leif Eiriksson in 1003.


        After her journeys to Vinland, Gudrid settled in a house named Glaumbaer (Farm of Merry Noise), on the site of today’s historic Glaumbær Turf House in North-Iceland. 


        After being widowed for the third time, and during the years of 1025 to 1028, Gudrid, being a recent convert to Christianity, travelled to Rome at the age of 60.  A ripe old age to have lived to in those days, let alone travelled such a distance and back.  In her absences, her son Snorri buildt a church on the farm property, to which Gudrid retired upon her return.


        The book also goes into some detail about the weaving done by the women, which became the national currency. To quote historian Jenny Jochens, on page 236, “By the end of the eleventh century, the previous silver standard, founded on men’s violent and sporadic activities as Vikings, had been replaced by the homespun standard, based on women’s peaceful and steady work as weavers.”  Truly a lesson for today’s world.


        The second book for this month is Olive the Lionheart: Lost love, imperial spies, and one woman’s journey into the heart of Africa by Brad Ricca.  I found this book to read like a travel thriller, with the author moving back and forth in time in a most skillful way, such as I have never seen done before.  Having become engaged to celebrated naturalist Boyd Alexander, who goes to Africa “one last time” before planning to settle down in Scotland, Olive MacLeod is shocked to learn that Boyd has died enroute to his undisclosed location, casting assumptions that Boyd’s endeavor was possibly clandestine in nature; perhaps even spying for the British Empire. Distraught by this turn events, Olive decides that she must find Boyd’s body and return it to his home, covering a distance of 2,700 miles all told, being the first woman to complete such a journey.  Once in Africa, she hires a couple named Talbot to lead her to Boyd’s last known location and treks through jungle, swamp, over mountains (Olive is the only one able to climb a particular mount, in bare feet nonetheless) encountering many wild animals along the way, including two abandon lion cubs, whom Olive adopts. 


        Brad Ricca takes you every step of the way on this journey, without even leaving your favourite reading place.  I highly recommend this for those who are eager for a new adventure.  Oh, spoiler alert, there is a delightful unforeseen twist revealed at the end of the book which is sure to make you smile.


        I am an intrepid woman – are you?  I hope you answered yes!


Now for this month’s Yiddish proverb:


Barat zich mit vemen du vilst; un tu miten aigenem saichel


Ask advice from everyone, but act with your own mind

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Rhonda Spivak, Editor

Publisher: Spivak's Jewish Review Ltd.

Opinions expressed in letters to the editor or articles by contributing writers are not necessarily endorsed by Winnipeg Jewish Review.