Sunday, 27 April 2014

Sister Sundays | Review: Burial Rites by Hannah Kent


Book: Burial Rites

Author: Hannah Kent

Pages: 322

I read it on: My Kindle

I read it in: 8-9 hours across 2 days

Plot Summary: Set against Iceland's stark landscape, Hannah Kent brings to vivid life the story of Agnes, who, charged with the brutal murder of her former master, is sent to an isolated farm to await execution. 

Horrified at the prospect of housing a convicted murderer, the family at first avoids Agnes. Only Tóti, a priest Agnes has mysteriously chosen to be her spiritual guardian, seeks to understand her. But as Agnes's death looms, the farmer's wife and their daughters learn there is another side to the sensational story they've heard. 

Riveting and rich with lyricism, BURIAL RITES evokes a dramatic existence in a distant time and place, and asks the question, how can one woman hope to endure when her life depends upon the stories told by others?

What I Liked: I loved the setting of this novel. Early 19th century Iceland- stark, bleak and sort of magical (in a very, very raw sense of the term). I enjoy books that grant me a glimpse into...
a) Another culture 
b) Another time period
c) A country I don't know much about or have not been to yet 
.. and so, it is not very surprising that this book had me from the get-go. 

Burial Rites tells the story of the last woman to be given the capital punishment in Iceland. Agnes Magnusdottir is a 'maid', who has been accused of killing her master and setting his home on fire. The story follow Agnes' life in the months leading upto her execution. So, there is a lot of introspection on her part as well as how the various people around her- the young priest, Toti, the family with whom she has to live in the days prior to her death etc.- see her, judge her and how some of them actually empathise and understand her. 

It is these memories, impressions and just the time spent with Agnes as she lives out her sentence and reminisces about her life, which are beautifully researched and re-created in the book and told with a lot of heart. It made for very riveting reading and also made me think about how crime and punishment are so much governed by subjective human impressions of the perpetrator and the victim- even today. 

Apart from Agnes, who is an interesting character with a very 'modern' voice, other characters like Toti- the young priest (who is supposed to make Agnes make amends with God prior to her death)- and the farmer's wife- are also well crafted and so human in the way their thinking shifts as the story progresses. 

Would You Like It?: Yes! Burial Rites is a wonderful and sensitively told tale and is so interesting and multi-dimensional. If you like reading about interesting characters, an utterly novel setting and just mull over basic human nature and communities, then you'll love this book. 

Rating: 4/5 

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