How did your reading go this month? Did you read something set in Iceland that you enjoyed? Share in the comments!
I read our main title: Burial Rites by Hannah Kent. Initially I was wary of this book. I thought it was going to be hard for me to get through given the ‘Note on Icelandic Names and Pronunciation’ at the beginning and the map that confused me even more. (Now I realize those two items highlighted how well-researched this book is.) The more I read though, the more I found myself wanting to ignore my responsibilities and only read this book. I can’t pinpoint when it hooked me, but once it did, I was enthralled. Bonus: this book was based on a true story – the story of the last woman to be executed in Iceland. For more information about the true story, the author discusses it at the end of the book.
“To know what a person has done, and to know who a person is, are very different things.”
― Hannah Kent, Burial Rites
The above quote is the epitome of Burial Rites by Hannah Kent. In 1829 Iceland, Agnes and two others were convicted of a brutal double murder on a remote homestead. The judicial system, as it was at the time, ordered Agnes to be housed with a family on their small family farm. She is to stay there until her execution, receiving spiritual guidance from an assistant minister assigned to help in her final days.
Her hosts are naturally horrified when they learn that they are to house a murderer. Being forced to share a small space with her and to sleep and eat next to her is disastrous. The monetary compensation they are given isn’t even worth it in their eyes, but they are not given a choice as to whether or not they will house Agnes. They avoid Agnes at first, but when the assistant minister, Toti, shows up, they are forced to confront their feelings. Toti is the only one who tries to understand her, even though she is reticent to discuss religion with him. As Agnes’ execution date looms closer, the family learn more about Agnes and the truth of what happened the night two people were murdered.
This book is set against Iceland’s stark landscape. The language is beautifully written, showcasing to reader the hardships that farmers were facing at that time. The author also discusses what it’s like to face a death sentence. Agnes starts this story stoic, determined to face her death with dignity, but the closer her death becomes, the more her resolve cracks. She begins to open up, giving readers, and the people around her, a rare glimpse at her truth.
I hope you enjoyed traveling to Iceland with me this month! In November, we’re headed to Africa.