What a pleasure it was to immerse myself in medieval Norway throughout the summer. This book, Kristin Lavransdatter, was perfect for a literary summer escape, and the travel carbon footprint was excellent. My enjoyment was increased because my husband and I had hiked a few years ago in the very Norwegian valley of Gudbrandsdal in which we follow the life of Kristin from the age of seven.
The entire work is a trilogy of over a thousand pages, but our book group was assigned to read the first book, The Wreath. However, it was impossible not to continue reading the other two books, since one becomes so richly involved in the lives of the many complex characters. The problems of our times disappear and those of the Middle Ages in Norway surge to the foreground.
Here is a world where social and religious taboos dominate yet dare to be broken by a young lady who was adored by her highly respected and loved father and whose heart she knew she would break. This is a world of early Christianity in a Scandinavia which is ruled by religion, social order and the sword but where pagan beliefs are heavily interwoven with Christianity. Passions overcome common sense and upbringing, love is blind and the consequences of the guilt of deception are born forever. This is a world where childbirth and disease are a terrifying experience. Daily and political life are vividly described and apparently well researched by the Nobel Prize-winning author. Unsted was born in Denmark but lived much of her life in Norway. She read extensively, immersed herself in Norwegian sagas and also learned much about the past from her own adored, well-known archeologist father.
Some members of our book group read an earlier translation from the Norwegian and found the language rather heavy and old fashioned, spoiling the flow that those who read the more recent Tiina Nunnally translation enjoyed. We all felt that the depth given to the main characters in the book was outstanding. This work was published in the early 1920s and we agreed that the emotions expressed were not so very different from those we feel today. Some questioned whether that would really have been the case in medieval Norway, but it was generally felt it would have been, despite such a totally different environment Mediafrom the author’s or our own. This is the book to read if you want to enjoy an excellently written Norwegian historical epic that you really can’t put down. But you must make sure that you get the Nunnally translation and can turn off all interfering electronic intrusions of the 21st century.