Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Book #47

I haven't written about my readings lately.  Oh, I've been reading.  I think the act of writing about each and every book got tedious and started to feel like a book report.  There are a couple that I've read, and I have thoughts to share.  I'll get around to that.  Today, I finished a book that inspired me to share it with other readers:  Burial Rites by Hannah Kent.

Not the kind of book I'd normally pick up to read. I almost always read books set in more modern times (1940s to present day). The cover and synopsis looked like some serious literature to me.  From
In northern Iceland, 1829, Agnes Magnusdottir is condemned to death for her part in the brutal murder of two men.

Agnes is sent to wait out the time leading to her execution on the farm of District Officer Jon Jonsson, his wife and their two daughters. Horrified to have a convicted murderess in their midst, the family avoids speaking with Agnes. Only Toti, the young assistant reverend appointed as Agnes' spiritual guardian, is compelled to try to understand her, as he attempts to salvage her soul. As the summer months fall away to winter and the hardships of rural life force the household to work side by side, Agnes' ill-fated tale of longing and betrayal begins to emerge. And as the days to her execution draw closer, the question burns: did she or didn't she?

Based on a true story, Burial Rites is a deeply moving novel about personal freedom: who we are seen to be versus who we believe ourselves to be, and the ways in which we will risk everything for love. In beautiful, cut-glass prose, Hannah Kent portrays Iceland's formidable landscape, where every day is a battle for survival, and asks, how can one woman hope to endure when her life depends upon the stories told by others?

I'm certainly glad I didn't discard this one just because it is set in Iceland in the 1800s, and I was slightly intimidated by it.  What a beauty of a book; heavy with dark imagery, but beautiful nonetheless.  As I was reading, I wanted to know more and more of Agnes's story.  I became emotionally invested in her and other characters.  Some of the reviews on goodreads are wonderfully written as well.  This one summarizes the book so eloquently that I feel I need to share it as well.  Chrissie from goodreads says:
 I cannot write a review that can do this book justice. This is what goes through my head:

* I am so happy I give few books five stars, because then when I run into a book this good my five star rating means something!

* You need a strong stomach for this book. I have warned you.

* Once you start you will not be able to read or do anything else.

* There is NO humor in this book. I always need humor, except NOT here. Don't ask me why! I just didn't need it. I was riveted from start to finish. I needed to understand the relationships that lie at the core of what happened. I was so focused on understanding the why, I didn't have any need for humor. Humor simply doesn't belong in this book. This is Nordic historical fiction of times long past - there is hunger and cold and darkness. That is the way it was. And people living in such difficult times did such twisted things.

* The book is NOT spooky, it is atmospheric.

* The writing! Similes, metaphors - they are all just perfect. Stunning writing.

* You will be moved. Jeez, at the end...... No, not just at the end, all the way through.

* And this is very important. Do not read this book. Please, if you possibly can, listen to it. The narration by Morven Christie is totally fantastic. The Icelandic is perfect. The tempo is slow and it must be slow, so you can think about what is being said, so you feel the doom and darkness of the events. This is an excellently written book AND excellently narrated. BOTH!

Phew, after this I don't want another Nordic drama for a long time. My emotions cannot take it. I have been through a wringer with this one.

I assume you have read the book description, so you know that this story is based on true events. There is a chapter at the end that explains all the research involved. The author closely follows what is known. There are different views of Agnes' behavior, but the author has totally convinced my of what her study of the facts have lead her to believe.

This is one of the best books I have read/listened to this year.
I agree with everything Chrissie says except the need to listen to the book.  I read it, and it was still fantastic.  It moved me so much, that I may take Chrissie's suggestion and give it a listen too.  If you are a reader and lover of a good story, read Burial Rites.  

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