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Hachette Book Group
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Burial Rites: A Novel Kindle Edition
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|Length: 353 pages||Word Wise: Enabled||Enhanced Typesetting: Enabled|
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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.
As a child growing up in California, I would ask my father to tell me about his childhood. He would just say that he was never a child. For the first time in my life I can understand what his life must have been like and why he never wanted to go back to Iceland. When he was 5 years old, he rode his horse one full day to the nearest doctor to get his tonsils out, then rode back the next day. He spent several years in a tuberculosis asylum. He didn't see a car until he was 12. A year before he died, he told me that at age 12 he was sent to work on another farm where the farmer often beat him. Miraculously at age 20, he got a scholarship to John Hopkins University. He was supposed to go back to Iceland after graduation, but went the opposite direction to California instead.
Looking at Iceland now, it's hard to remember its impoverished past.
Thank you Hannah Kent for all the research and care you put into this book! It's right up there with Nobel laureates Sigrid Undset and Halldór Laxness. I'm looking forward to many more of your books!
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