So, I’m a little obsessed with Little House on the Prairie. Ever since I read the first book decades ago, I’ve been searching for a specific kind of nonfiction that reads like fiction. The entire reason I picked up Heida in the first place was to chase that high. I want large outdoor spaces, working both with and against the elements, and that ever-present sense of awe. Heida: A Shepherd at the Edge of the World mostly delivers on that promise.
On the surface, it looks like it checks all the boxes. Heida Ásgeirsdottír is a sheep farmer, model, green activist, and now a best-selling author. She has that same, straight-forward down to earth feeling that Laura Ingalls Wilders’ journals do. More than that, Heida is a poet. She was a police officer and she served as an ultrasound technician for the community’s sheep.
Basically, she’s lived through enough for three lives, but that didn’t stop the memoir from falling flat.
Heida: A Shepherd at the Edge of the World
by Steinunn Sigurðardóttir, Heiða Ásgeirsdottír
[March 31st, 2020]
The Pitch: Heiða is a solitary farmer with a flock of 500 sheep in a remorseless area bordering Iceland’s highlands.
Divided into four seasons, Heiða tells the story of a remarkable year, interwoven with vivid stories of her animals and farm work and paints a unforgettable portrait of a remote life close to nature.
We humans are mortal; the land outlives us, new people come, new sheep, new birds and so on but the land with its rivers and lakes and resources, remains.
3.40 out of 5 on Goodreads
Reading that excerpt for the first time? I thought I’d hit the jackpot. Heida is amazing. You can already tell she’s amazing. Add in the fact that she writes silly poems for us, loves her dogs, and has a tough no nonsense attitude? I was halfway in love.
Heida is someone who bucks traditional roles. It was confusing to her to be told that she was doing a man’s work. It never appealed to her to have children or find a husband to settled down with. These things alone were enough to endear me to her. The way that she spoke about farming and the land that she farmed really made me feel her passion. Plus, I loved how short and to the point she was.
A little before halfway through the book, Heida starts talking about going into politics. This is a key element of her life that helps her to fight against an environmentally damaging power plant that developers want to build. But as soon as this came into play, there was a sharp disconnect for me.
The charming woman that I had met earlier in the book was stressed. In the end, the book felt less like a conversation and more like a list. The intention was to show us how stressed Heida was, but instead it undid all that careful work. I no longer felt like it as a conversation nor could I feel the connection to the land that Heida was fighting for.
For me, that’s the true tragedy. By the end of the book, I felt so disconnected from the land. I had to look at the front of the book to remind myself it was beautiful.
Who Should Read Heida: A Shepherd at the Edge of the World?
People who love environmental narratives will enjoy this book. Especially if they like politics too. For those who are interested in farming, I would recommend it. There are some interesting tidbits about the farm and how it’s run.
If you’re looking for a straightforward narrative, then I’d skip it. If you’re looking for long, poetic descriptions, then I’d skip it too. This is not a nonfiction book that reads like fiction.
Despite this, I still enjoyed Heida and her bluntness. It was an interesting read, but not one I would ever revisit.
3 out of 5 from TrulyBooked
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