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it was amazing
Well, well, well, Miss Undset has made it onto my 10-star list. She should be proud. She also won a Nobel Prize for her work, so there is that. Her Kristin Lavransdatter books are unquestionably works of massive scope on par with JRR Tolkien’s Lord Of the Rings. A strange comparison, you say? Well I agree with you. The only thing that comes to mind immediately is the length of the two. But there is so much more. Where LOTR was preparation for battle with Sauron’s forces, Kristin Lavransdatter wa
The great wisdom this book imparted on me is what made it unforgettable. It’s so layered that it portrays almost all aspects of a woman’s life during the 14th century.(I specify the era because many things have changed since then but I wish to stress that I noticed that the similarities between the times are more prominent than the differences) Talk about a woman’s perspective! Every budding teenage boy wanting to understand the complexities of a woman’s mind should read this. Never before did I realize how different men and women really are.
And the layers! How layered life actually is. Everything is like a circle within a circle within a circle with the inner most circle eventually becoming our intimate other. The second and third book are like a survival guide for the married couple. Erlend and Kristin are not always perfectly faithful – there are minor(well, you could call them major) mishaps between the two – but they never truly stop loving each other. They never stop caring for each other and their children, like most normal parents do. Now I can appreciate how remarkable my mom and pops really are, how truly magnificent women can be, and what it means to bring a life into this world. In fact, there is nothing that I didn’t not not like about this book(double negatives included). There is magic, most who know me will attest to my love of all things magical. The prose are humble yet beautiful in there delivery. All in all the book was masterful. It taught me to appreciate life, not just my life but also the lives that are close to mine, more. And to quote Kurt Vonnegut ‘If that isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.’
“All my days I have longed equally to travel the right road and to take my own errant path.”
I am not a great fan of historical fiction, especially not if the main characters are deeply religious to the point of sacrificing themselves and their happiness in order to be forgiven for their sins (their moments of passion and life, that is!).
So I was not expecting to like Kristin Lavransdotter at all when I started reading the hardback copy I bought for some coins in a secondhand store. I wanted to
A historical epic divided in three installments – The Wreath, The Wife and The Cross – that unfolds the life of Kristin Lavrandsatter, a woman of noble ancestry in Medieval Norway, from birth to death. Undset paints a faithful portrayal of an era marked by turbulent dynastic wars and the latent paganism ingrained in the Christian values of a very rigid society, representative of its time. The three novels probe deep into the human, moral and religious conflicts that befall on the protagonist and
Undset’s prose is technically irreproachable: a traditional structure, archetypal of the 19thC realistic tradition, with an omniscient third-person narrator that uses relatively short chapters following a linear timeline. The narration focuses on the central heroine of the saga, around which orbits a constellation of secondary characters that presents a full display of the myriad tonalities of human nature depicted from the perspective of the classical struggle between good and evil, light and darkness, punishment and exoneration.
Ambition and the unquenchable thirst for power; the eternal dichotomy of aspiring purity and the repressed carnal desire or the growing sense of estrangement between parents and children saturates the plotline with an unshakable, almost suffocating, sense of guilt, which is the main reason for my lack of enthusiasm for this epic tome.
The resigned attitude showed by Kristin whenever she is delivered a tragic blow brings digressive inner monologues that circle around God-fearing arguments that, in my opinion, taint the luscious descriptions of the Scandinavian landscape and its powerful symbolism. That feature alone prevented me from fully enjoying the indisputable quality of Undset’s descriptive skills. Also, the subtly censorious arguments against natural impulses such as sexual drive and healthy resolution seemed so old-fashioned and anchored in the past that it was incredibly difficult for me to empathize with the characters’ plights, even if such thoughts were according to the era.
In the end, I got the feeling that Undset was somehow impugning the prevailing naturalistic doctrines in the 19thC that vouched for a positive socio-cultural determinism. Her continuous defense of pious sanctity and repentance as means to accept God’s will in a magnanimous, almost sermonizing undertone, endorses the idea of the original sin and prosecutes mankind, leaving no space for historical progress.
Those who dominate the medieval hermeneutics and the biblical allegory will find countless references in Undset’s art and literature. Life, like the river that inexorably advances and drags away the dust of faceless generations, looms larger when it reaches the end.
Even the floral wreaths worn by virginal Norwegian maidens wither with the erosion of lifetimes spent in obsessive repentance; and a thorny cross is all that is left of their testimony.
To blossom in the face of Death, like Undset’s characters do, requires blind faith and that is something an incredulous dilettante like myself can’t indulge in; and so to all those daredevils who think like I do, I toast to life, while it lasts, and to its paradoxical absurdities, which I embrace without pretensions, hoping to reach the end of this bumpy journey with a full heart rather than fearful hope.