Daughter

a memoir

As a young girl, Alda Sigmundsdóttir yearns to be close to her beautiful, distant mother, yet is never able to win her affection. When her parents divorce, a dark symbiosis between mother and daughter is forged, with devastating consequences that threaten to derail everything—especially Alda’s chance at intimacy and love.

In this searingly honest memoir, the author of the beloved “Little Books” on Iceland tells the story of a childhood marred by trauma, the denial she employed to survive, and the struggle to regain her authentic self. In unpacking her personal history, Alda discovers the elusive nature of truth and its indispensable part in making us free. Inspiring, touching and brave, this book speaks to anyone who values emotional freedom and longs to break away from the destructive patterns of the past.

Hardcover copy of Icelandic Folk Legends on a white table with flowers

Sample chapter

PROLOGUE

When I was a little girl my mother and I fought all the time, so she decided that I should see a psychiatrist. I was eight years old. 

On the day of the appointment, she picked me up from the daycare centre where I went after school and together we walked to the child psychiatric ward of the National Hospital. It took us around twenty minutes. It was springtime, and buds were just forming on the trees and bushes that we passed. The sun was out, but the air was still cool, and I shivered in my light winter jacket. My mother strode along purposefully and I strove to keep up with her, not sure what this meeting was for, or why I needed to go. 

In the waiting area were a handful of chairs, and a low table designed for children, with crayons and paper. I did not sit at the children’s table but took a seat next to my mother, dangling my feet off the edge of the chair. A few minutes later a door opened and a tall man with a bulky physique and unruly hair stood in the doorway. He invited us into his office and introduced himself as Karl. He took a seat behind a big desk, my mother and I sat opposite, and after they had conversed for a bit he began asking me questions: What was my favourite subject in school; what did I like to do in my spare time; how did I get along with my mother; how did I feel about my father living apart from us? Eventually he pulled out a piece of cardboard that had been folded in two, and opened it. In the middle was a blob of something. 

“Does this remind you of anything?” he asked, watching me closely.

I leaned closer to examine it, then looked at him, puzzled. I wanted to give him the right answer, but was confused. He gave a genial smile. “Just tell me if you think this looks like anything.”

It looked like a big blob of ink to me, but obediently I said: “It’s kind of like an elephant.”

He glanced at the blob and nodded thoughtfully.

“Very good,” he said. “I’m going to talk to your mother now and was wondering if you would mind going out into the hall and drawing me a picture?”

“Of what?” 

“Anything you want.” He smiled benignly. 

I went out and glanced back to see the door close behind me. I sat at the low kid’s table and got to work. 

By the time the door opened again my masterpiece was ready. I had drawn a house with a chimney and a garden, a flag pole with the Icelandic flag at full mast, a tree, and a winding path leading to the door. I handed the picture to the doctor, sincerely hoping he would like it. 

“That’s a good picture,” he said, taking his seat behind the desk again. “I notice there are no people in it.”

“I’m not good at drawing people,” I said.

More questions ensued, then I was sent out into the hallway again for a few minutes while the doctor and my mother wrapped things up. 

Later that evening I overheard my mother on the phone, telling her eldest sister Alma about the session. The doctor’s verdict was that I was normal. Our fighting was also normal, and stemmed from the fact that we were too much alike, he said. If we ever stopped fighting, he told my mother, that was when she should bring me to see him. 

There was a hint of triumph in her voice as she said it, as though this gave her some kind of one-upmanship. Which I would later learn was, indeed the case—my mother and Alma disagreed when it came to child-rearing methodology, and my mother was very keen to prove Alma wrong, and herself right. 

I now know that Karl had no idea what he was looking at. None. Although how could he have been expected to see the threads that were woven in secret and kept resolutely hidden behind the façade of loving motherhood? Even I, who was the most immediate party to them, was unable to view the insidious tapestry they were weaving.

It was not until my half-sister Frances came to visit me, some four decades later, that I saw the evidence laid out before me, crystal-clear. Frances, who was nearly twenty years my junior, was sitting at my kitchen table wearing her Queen’s University varsity jacket, while I was at the sink rinsing some dishes. I do not recall the exact topic we were discussing, only that she suddenly said: “I know why you didn’t come to visit. I know it was because of my dad.”

I had been standing with my back to her, and now spun around. Before I had a chance to comment she raised her left hand, made a sharp movement across it with the index finger of her right hand, and said emphatically: “If I could rid myself of his DNA by cutting my own wrists, I would do it.”

Her dark, almond-shaped eyes—our mother’s eyes—burned with an acrimonious fire. I knew, right then, that I could not say what I was thinking: that her father was an easy man to hate, but that there was more—so much more. I could not say it because of her evident presumption that we were allies, that she and I were united with our mother against her father. That it was all about him, and in no way about her.

And then, with a creeping sense of dread, came the absolute inner knowing that where my mother had failed with me, she had succeeded with Frances.

Reviews

DAUGHTER - A MEMOIR

This is a beautifully written memoir about the life of author Alda Sigmundsdottir. I have followed her writing for decades, way back when she was writing, “The Icelandic Weather Report.” Her “Little Books” of Icelandic heritage are a treasure. […]

The book covers her life as a young child through early adulthood. Some horrific things that happen to her, but her writing calls neither for you to view her with pity nor heroism. It’s a tightrope to walk and she does it beautifully. I read the entire book over the course of two evenings because I couldn’t put it down. […]

NANCY J. LEWIS VIA GOODREADS

DAUGHTER - A MEMOIR

[…] I think it is of paramount importance to break the taboo and stigma surrounding mental health and the traumatizing effect psychological abuse has on children and people in general. We should not turn away, we should not sweep the topic under the carpet, we should not belittle it – society really needs to truly see these people and use any chance to lend a helping hand.
In my opinion Alda’s book is not only an intimate and raw insight into her life, but also a beautiful and curageous act of giving a voice to trauma victims and survivors who can’t yet speak for themselves.

VANESSZA VIA GOODREADS

DAUGHTER - A MEMOIR

[…] This book is very well written, honest and extremely relatable. In my family the narcissist was my father. I identified strongly with the emotions and behaviors the author describes of growing up in a dysfunctional family. At times it was painful for me to be reminded of experiences in my own childhood that caused such similar emotions. But in the end, the book delivers a message of hope for growth and recovery.

AMY CLIFTON VIA GOODREADS

DAUGHTER - A MEMOIR

[…]I expected this book to be very readable from previous experiences with Alda’s writing and it did not disappoint. This reads like a beautiful story. I wanted to hug young Alda so often! It was heartbreaking to read what she went through, but I’m also very happy that she came out the other side and is doing much better. I also really appreciate the way she wrote about the people in her life, even her mother who caused her so much grief. She is never mean when talking about anyone. At worst it sounded matter-0f-factly. I heard in it how much she wanted to understand and how much she understands now. Alda manages to explain her younger self’s feelings so that we feel with her, but also manages to look at it from her adult perspective, now that she understands better what was going on.

I cried while reading it. Even though it is often sad, it is written beautifully and gives hope for all of us. We are not alone.

JANA STAUROVSKA VIA GOODREADS

DAUGHTER - A MEMOIR

Emotional, and raw, and at times it hit a little too close to home. This story takes you on the author’s journey, and is beautifully done. I definitely recommend this book.

WENDY BURK VIA GOODREADS

DAUGHTER - A MEMOIR

A powerful read…an engaging, honest, no holds barred look at a lifetime of dysfunction that ultimately leads to well-deserved redemption. Anyone who has (or who is) experiencing family dysfunction will benefit from this book and realize they aren’t alone.

DOUG SIMONTON VIA GOODREADS

About the author

Alda Sigmundsdóttir the Author of the Little Books about Iceland

Alda Sigmundsdóttir is a writer, and occasional journalist. She runs her own independent press, Little Books Publishing, based in Reykjavík, Iceland.

Alda is the author of ten books, each of which explores an aspect of Icelandic culture or society. Her two latest books, The Little Book of the Icelanders at Christmas and The Little Book of Days in Iceland, are about the Icelanders’ enthusiasm for the Yuletide season, and Iceland’s special seasonal events and holidays, respectively. Alda is active on social media, and may be found on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

© Alda Sigmundsdóttir 2022 | All Rights Reserved