Monday, October 3, 2011

I can't believe I read the whole thing!



I read it again. Cover to cover. All 1,124 pages!
My friend Susannah will be glad she wasn't around this time. Jim hopes I never read it again.

This doesn't sound like a great review, I know. But, I have recommended this book to people...mostly women...and I will recommend it again.

It is a life story, from childhood to death in old age (or at least what passed for old age in 14th century Norway...which may or may not be close to MY age). The story follows Kristin Lavransdatter (daughter of Lavrans...isn't that nice and clear?) from her days as a young maiden (love that word for a little girl) frolicking at her father's side; through her blossoming into a headstrong young woman who wanted to follow her heart over her father's will; into her years as a "mother of men" (she gave birth to 8 sons); throughout her stormy relationship with, and her all encompassing affection for her husband; her growth as the mistress of her husband's estate and eventually her father's estate; her care for the people in her village; her final years in a convent; and how all of this culminates in her final battle.

Through the whole book Kristin struggles against her faults and strives to atone for her sins. She learns to love her Lord and see His hand in her life even when she fails to truly love those closest to her.

So...if you haven't clicked away already, you may be wondering why Susannah would be happy to be so far away, and why Jim would hope that he never sees me pick it up again. I think it is my fault....I talk about Kristin. It is difficult to share this book in bits and pieces....all they hear is her awful mistakes...how she finds her love interest while she is betrothed to an honorable young man (chosen by her father) who truly loves her AND she is living in a convent school....she has to sneak away to awful places to meet him....

See? It comes across a bit depressing...like a soap opera.

Now you are wondering why I would read this once, let alone twice. The truth is, I find the author's account of the effects of sin in our lives to be excruciatingly accurate. Yet her expression of God's mercy, and true virtue are inspiring and uplifting.

I also LOVE the way the people of the time lived according to the liturgical year. The days of their lives were bordered and organized according to the feasts and seasons of the Church year. In fact, rarely is a month mentioned...she will say "on the Thursday before Michelmas"....or "shortly after St Olav's day".

Finally, the author Sigrid Undset, converted to Catholicism within a few years of the publication of her trilogy and became a Lay Dominican. I have heard it said that the research she did for this novel converted her.

Here is the final test to see if you too might undertake the reading of this book...THE QUOTES.

I dog-eared a bunch of pages during the month and a half I took to read this book and even wrote (gasp!) in the margins a couple of times. [on a side note, we have started the habit of writing on the inside cover of the books we are reading the date started and/or finished it....this includes family read-alouds as well as our personal reading. The idea is that we might revisit these books again...or our kids will...and they will see who read it when...kind of a nice record for the family's intellectual history]
now...back to my quotes from the book. They tend to be the theological/spiritual statements of various characters. There is much more to the book--lots about Norway, it's history, the life of the average family at the time, the terrain.

[from a conversation between a very young Kirstin and the very holy monk Brother Edvin]
"There are no other children at home besides me", replied Kristin. "So I will probably marry, I would think. Mother has already filled chests and trunks with my dowry."
"Yes I see", said Brother Edvin, stroking her forehead. "That's the way folk dispatch their children these days. To God they give the daughters that are lame and blind and ugly and infirm; or if they think He has given them too many children, they let Him take some of them back. And yet they wonder why the men and maidens who live in the cloisters are not all holy people..."

[later Kristin's mother give's birth to a little girl who grows sweet and pretty, but at age 3 has an accident that leaves her unable to walk well and with a twisted back [see...when I tell you that part doesn't it sound depressing? But the story of Ulvhild's life is ultimately uplifting]. Again, the holy monk is there]

"Here is the child I told you about, dear Father. Place your hands on her and pray to God for her, the way you prayed for the boy up north in Meldal---we heard he regained his health."
The monk gently put his hand under Ulvhild's chin and looked into her eyes. Then he lifted one of her hands and kissed it.
"You should pray instead, you and your wife, Lavrans Bjorgulfson, that you will not be tempted to bend God's will with this child. Our Lord Jesus himself has set these small feet on  a path so that she can walk safely toward the house of peace --I can see in your eyes, blessed Ulvhild, that you have your intercessors in that other house."

 [much later, as an adult, Kristin's brother in law is having a conversation with one of his nephews who he thinks may have a vocation. He is talking of God's love]

"Then I realized that this mighty love sustains everything in the world---even the fire in Hell. For if God wanted to, He could take our souls by force; then we would be completely powerless in His grasp. But since He loves us the way the bridegroom loves the bride, He will not force her; if she won't embrace Him willingly, then He must allow her to flee and to shun Him."
[As you can see I tend toward the theological....let me see if I can find something different...]

[Later in life Kristin is on a pilgrimage and she stops at a church that has a strong place in her memories]

The chapel stood in a clearing in dense forest; both the building and the mountain behind were mirrored in a pond from which a curative spring flowed. A wooden cross stood near the creek, and all around lay crutches and walking sticks, and on the bushes hung shreds of old bandages. 
There was a small fence around the church, but the gate was locked. Kristin knelt down outside and thought about the time she had sat inside with Gaute on her lap...Then she had prayed so fervently that if this suffering child would be given his wits and health, she would ask for nothing more, not even to be freed from the terrible pain in her back which had plagued her ever since the birth of the twins.... 
....Surely she had never asked God for anything except that He should let her have her will. And every time she had been granted what she asked for---for the most part. Now here she sat with a contrite heart---not because she had sinned against God but because she was unhappy that she had been allowed to follow her will to the road's end. 
Okay, I tried to give you something not theological...I guess technically it is catechetical, or spiritual. But there was that nice description of the chapel, right?

Convinced? If you want to borrow the book, I have it....just don't talk to your husband or friends about it while you read it, tell them that have to read it themselves.

1 comment:

  1. I am part way throughout the last book. I feel very similarly to you, it's wonderful, sad, true...
    But it's been almost a year and I'm finding it hard to pick it back up and finish the series...it's so intense and mostly depressing. But this has inspired me...when I have a little emotional energy I'll finally get to the end. It is a wonderful series.

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