|The cover art of this edition is just beautiful -- anyone know the name of the painting?|
In 1920, Sigrid Undset published the first novel in the Kristin Lavransdatter series, Volume I: The Wreath. Set in Norway during the Middle Ages, about 1300, The Wreath is the story of a young woman's coming of age. Though she wrote contemporary books as well, Undset won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1928 primarily for this trilogy. I'm always looking for interesting books in translation, and Nobel prize winner made this a win-win selection for me.
The story starts out with Kristin as a young girl and oldest surviving child of her father Lavrans (hence her surname, Lavransdatter, which literally means Lavran's daughter; at that time, Norwegians used the patronymic naming system which is still in use in Iceland today). Kristin's parents have lost three young sons, so she is the great hope of the family. They assume she will marry well and when she is fifteen, she is betrothed to Simon, the son of a neighboring landowner. After a tragedy, she is sent to a convent school for a year, where she falls in love with the dark and dangerous Erlend, a handsome man with a bad reputation. The majority of the book is about Kristin's struggles between following her heart and disappointing her parents or pleasing everyone by marrying a man she doesn't love. Kristin also struggles with the moral implications of Erlend's past and her involvement with him. She's been raised as a devout Catholic and often turns to the priests for moral guidance, which she doesn't always follow.
|This cover is from On the Plain by Erek Werenskiold|
I read the Penguin classics version which was newly translated in 2005, and I found it a very easy read. It did start a bit slowly in Kristin's childhood, but once she got betrothed to Simon, the plot really started moving and I finished it very quickly. I've always enjoyed historical fiction but I've read very few books set in the Medieval period. Undset did a lot of research and her descriptions of life in the period are excellent. Parts of it actually reminded me a bit of Game of Thrones, especially life in Winterfell (but without the dragons and White Walkers). I definitely want to read the next two books in the series, The Wife and The Cross. I really hadn't been planning on starting another book series (I still haven't finished the last two books in the Poldark series) but Undset really brought Kristin and her world to life. Luckily they're available as free digital downloads from my library so I may just zip right through them.
I'm counting this as my Award-Winning Classic for the Back to the Classics Challenge and also as my Norwegian read for the European Reading Challenge.