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Burial Rites Paperback – April 1, 2014


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Back Bay Books; 1ST edition (April 1, 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0316243922
  • ISBN-13: 978-0316243926
  • Product Dimensions: 8.2 x 5.4 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (958 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #29,274 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

An Amazon Best Book of the Month, September 2013: Exploring the final months of an Icelander maid charged with murder and condemned to execution in 1829 is hardly a reader-friendly subject for a novel. But in her mesmerizing debut, Hannah Kent offers a retelling of actual historical events that makes it impossible not to become invested in understanding the guilt--or innocence--of Agnes Magnúsdóttir, the last person to be executed in Iceland. Kent seamlessly shifts between historical documents and different characters’ perspectives with a lyricism that makes every tortured thought and charged interaction echo in the silence of Iceland’s stark landscape. As details of Agnes’s involvement in the crime come to light, this thoroughly researched debut novel asks us to examine the significance of stories--both the ones that others tell about us and the ones that we tell about ourselves--ultimately offering Agnes a chance at a more compassionate story than the one history has given her. --Heather Hunt

--This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Publishers Weekly

Kent's debut delves deep into Scandinavian history, not to mention matters of storytelling, guilt, and silence. Based on the true story of Agnes Magnúsdóttir, the novel is set in rural Iceland in 1829. Agnes is awaiting execution for the murder of her former employer and his friend, not in a prison—there are none in the area—but at a local family's farm. Jón Jónsson, the father, grudgingly accepts this thankless task as part of his responsibility as a regional official, but his wife and daughters' reactions range from silent resentment to outright fear. After settling in to the household, Agnes requests the company of a young priest, to whom she confesses parts of her story, while narrating the full tale only to the reader, who, like the priest, provide her with a final audience to her life's lonely narrative. The multilayered story paints sympathetic and complex portraits of Agnes, the Jónssons, and the young priest, whose motives for helping the convict are complicated. Kent smoothly incorporates her impressive research— for example, she opens many of the chapters with documents that come directly from archival sources—while giving life to these historical figures and suspense to their tales. Agent: Daniel Lazar, Writers House. (Sept.) --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

More About the Author

Hannah Kent was born in Adelaide in 1985. As a teenager she travelled to Iceland on a Rotary Exchange, where she first heard the story of Agnes Magnúsdóttir.

Hannah is the co-founder and deputy editor of Australian literary journal Kill Your Darlings, and is completing her PhD at Flinders University. In 2011 she won the inaugural Writing Australia Unpublished Manuscript Award.

Burial Rites is her first novel.

Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

195 of 203 people found the following review helpful By Latitudes on May 15, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
There has been a great deal of publicity surrounding this book, the meticulously researched fictionalised account of the events leading up to the execution of Agnes Magnusdottir - the last woman to be executed in Iceland and so I began the book with high expectations. They were surpassed. From the first page I was transported to a different place and time and I became oblivious to everything around me. ended up staying up nearly all night to finish this book not because it is full of suspense but because I was "there" with the characters and did not want to / in fact could not leave them. The writing is beautiful,the research fantastic. - I am recommending it to all my family and friends.
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127 of 132 people found the following review helpful By Cphe on April 23, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Based on the tragic and harrowing story of Agnes Magnusdottir the last woman executed in Iceland in the early 1800's. It's a deeply moving account of Agnes a workmaid, and her two co-accused who were sentenced to death for the brutal murder of two men. One her lover and master.

Awaiting her execution, Agnes is sent to the small and isolated holding of Jon Jonsson a District Officer and his family to await her execution. Spiritual salvation is delivered by the young and untried Assistant Reverent Toti who is appointed by the court after Agnes requests his services. During her time with Toti, Agnes tells of her life leading up to the murder through a series of flashbacks.

Agnes herself comes alive as a compelling character and has a quiet dignity. Abandoned by her mother and fostered out to various families until she becomes an almost nomadic servant who travels from each isolated holding looking to make ends meet. It is a grim and gritty existence. Agnes wants to be loved and falls into the mistaken belief that the love she felt for the murdered Natan will be returned.

It took me some time to sort out the characters and familiarize myself with the names, but once that was established it was very easy to fall into this mesmerising and evocative story. The writing style is almost lyrical and a picture of Iceland, the judical system and living conditions are vividly brought to life on the page. A time steeped in paganism, premonitions, dreams, sagas and a struggle to survive.

It's an emotionally draining and compelling novel, that has a very genuine feel for time and place. The claustrophic and dirt packed squalor of the crofts, the isolation and characters allow the reader to glimpse a time past.

A beautifully rendered and powerful story, lovingly delivered on the page.
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81 of 91 people found the following review helpful By Jenny Hayworth on May 10, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition
Did not put book down until I finished it. I could feel, taste, smell the scenes and characters. I lived it through to the end. It left me more aware than ever of the elusive nature of truth and memory depending on perspective and how easy it is to judge and feel we know another when often it so hard to know or understand ourselves accurately.
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61 of 68 people found the following review helpful By Susan Bennett on September 17, 2013
Format: Hardcover
Burial Rites is a welcome rarity in that equal value is given to literary merit as storytelling. Unfortunately, Agnes's developing relationship with her jailer family is unconvincing, as is her friendship with the Reverend Toti. Her willingness to ignore warning signals about Natan is a bit too convenient.

The dialogue lacks confidence and there is a fair amount of head-hopping between characters, as well as a tendency to "tell" over showing, ie "Agnes was angry." Towards the end of the book, the narrative becomes a lengthy info dump; once it is finished, the end is hastily delivered. Agnes's actions in the lead up to the murder were for me, quite implausible.

For all of that, the descriptive passages are beautifully executed. Burial Rites has many strengths, among them, its imagery and prose which is often wonderful. Author Hannah Kent's vivid evocation of the landscape and the times is harrowing and haunting. Agnes's first person narrative is unfailingly moving.

Burial Rites is a very worthwhile read and I'll be looking out for future works by the author.
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40 of 46 people found the following review helpful By KarenClick on April 24, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition
Even knowing the obvious outcome, this masterful book kept me on the edge of my seat. Unable to put it down, I have devoured it in less than 24 hours (including sleep, a three hour walk and 4 hours of driving)!!
Congratulations Hannah!!
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32 of 38 people found the following review helpful By Penny Farthing on August 6, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
An absorbing and affecting book, Burial Rites tells the haunting tale of the last woman executed in Iceland. Awaiting this fate, she is billeted with an unwilling family, and in the end her plight touches them all. This is no story of pure innocence or victimisation, but one that explores the way a community's experience of the whole narrative—the woman's love affair, background cruelty, the crime, then her extended wait for death—makes them reject the process of capital punishment, and deeply regret its outcome. In such a small cold community, nobody can escape the ordeal of learning.

As a novel, this is flawed—the main character is difficult to like, the opening paragraphs were confusing as to who was whom, I wanted more powerful characterisation and greater exploration of the relationship between the convicted woman and the religious man who comes to guide her toward Godly death—but these are fairly minor qualms. It's an ordeal to read, but a gripping one, and perhaps even a necessary one.
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