Kristin Lavransdatter is actually three novels — The Wreath (1920), The Wife (1921), and The Cross (1922) — compiled into one massive book. I bought the Penguin Classics deluxe edition a few years ago, back when I read Gunnar’s Daughter and had traveled to Norway and was still on a Viking high. To my low-key chagrin, the book was not another thrilling, over-the-top epic about Vikings. On my shelves it sat for the next three years until the 45-hour-long audiobook version was released (about the same amount of time it would take, I’d estimated, to finish a king-sized quilt I’d been working on for months). It was perfect timing.
The trilogy follows its title character from girlhood to old age in fourteenth-century Norway. It’s a period in the Middle Ages when the last vestiges of paganism have given way to Catholicism. As the eldest daughter of Lavrans, a privileged and well-respected landowner, Kristin is well-liked by her community. Lavrans, whose sons all died in infancy, dotes on his girls, especially Kristin. When she reaches a marriageable age, she’s promised to Simon Darre but begs her father to let her spend a year in a convent first. Ironically, it’s there that she becomes a scandalous woman; she meets the love of her life, Erlend Nikolausson and promises herself to him no matter the cost.
Tadeusz Borowski was a Polish author who was sent to Auschwitz and Dachau from 1943-1945. When he was twenty-one, his fiancee was arrested by Nazis at a friend’s apartment, and when Borowski went to look for her, he was ultimately sent to the concentration camps as well (both were part of underground activities in Warsaw). After his release, he searched for his fiancee and found her living in Sweden. Meanwhile, he was working as a writer and journalist. He eventually did marry his fiancee, but in 1952 at the age of 28, just three days after his wife gave birth, he committed suicide (there had been two previous attempts).
According to the book’s introduction by Jan Kott, writers/survivors at the time were expected to write either martyrologies or Communist works that were ideological and clearly showed right and wrong. Borowski was determined to document all that he had witnessed at Auschwitz and Dachau so that history would not be forgotten. However, his writings shocked a lot of people with their subject matter because of the perspectives they revealed. This Way for the Gas, Ladies and Gentlemen is a collection of concentration camp stories released a couple of years following Borowski’s release.
Greetings from Olso! I’ve been here less than 24 hours, but it’s been love at first sight for me!
While looking for Norwegian authors for this vacation-related reading project of mine, I came across Sigrid Undset and discovered that 1) she won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1928, and 2) a lot of her books are set in the Middle Ages and feature strong female characters. That, of course, sold me! I settled on Gunnar’s Daughter, her first historical novel, mostly because of its settings and the fact tat it was short enough to read before my trip. I’m glad I did, because it ended up being one of the best books I’ve read so far this year.
The book is set mostly in 11th century Iceland and Norway. Ljot and his uncle Veterlide are Vikings who sail over to Norway. They become guests of one of the most powerful landowners there, and twenty-year- old Ljot immediately falls in love with the landowner’s spoiled teenage daughter, Vigdis Gunnarsdottir. Because of her beauty and position of privilege, she has had many suitors, but she keeps rejecting everyone. Her father allows this, as he leaves the choice of suitor up to her.