She always planned on becoming a farmer and so she gave up a career in modelling. Now she lives alone on a remote farm under a volcano in South Iceland with a flock of over 500 sheep.
The biography Heida: A Shepherd at the Edge of the World will be published in English tomorrow. At first glance, it might look like a typical story of a farmer in Iceland, but you’ll soon find out that nothing about Heida is ordinary.
In the book, Icelandic award-winning author and journalist Steinunn Sigurðardóttir records the life of Heiða Guðný Ásgeirsdóttir, a solitary sheep farmer at Ljótastaðir farm in South Iceland. It is not a traditional biography, but a diary-like record of a year in Heiða’s life, depicting her work and daily struggles.
For a city-dweller like me, Heiða’s daily life is a constant fascination. The early hours, and physical work in cold conditions is a stark reminder of how all my everyday comforts–topical examples being my woolly jumper and lamb lunch—is only possible thanks to the work of Heiða and others like her.
But that really isn’t what makes this book so interesting. It is Heiða herself.
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Interwoven with descriptions of Heiða’s daily life are stories from her past. Heiða tells readers that when she was a skinny little girl, her father told her that she would one day take over the farm… once she found a husband.
Taking her father’s words as a challenge, rather than a prediction, Heiða decided to run the family farm by herself. She took over the Ljótastaðir farm at 26 and has now been running it for 21 years alone.
I want to tell women they can do anything, and to show that sheep farming isn’t just a man’s game. I guess I’ve always been a feminist. When I was growing up, there was a female president, and I used to wear the same clothes and play with the same toys as the boys. It was just normal to me.
It seems that throughout her life, Heiða has been swimming against the current. At 23, she was offered a modelling contract in New York which she decided to leave for a life as a farmer. During the year this book takes place, she is one of the few people in the area protesting the building of a hydroelectric power plant that will flood most of the valley.
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However, she never claims this as ‘being against the current’. Heiða has a strong sense of justice and is willing to fight for the things that matter to her, be it raising sheep alone or protecting the land.
Heida: A Shepherd at the Edge of the World by Steinunn Sigurdardóttir was published on 18 April in the UK. The English translation can also be found in Icelandic bookstores.