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Catholic Review of: Kristin Lavransdatter

Item Details

Author:  Sigrid Undset

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This item received 5 stars overall. (08/23/2011)

Orthodoxy: Completely orthodox.
Reading Level: Intermediate

 Dorian SpeedBy Dorian Speed (TX) - See all my reviews

Synopsis

Powerful themes of womanhood, sexuality, family, and faith

Evaluator Comments

The story of Kristin Lavransdatter, from the loss of her youthful innocence to the sacrifices she makes for her family as an older woman, remains relevant and powerful today despite being set in medieval Norway. This new translation by Tina Nunnally retains author Sigrid Undset's vivid imagery while being clear enough for modern readers. While it may take a few chapters to become immersed in the story, you'll soon be absorbed in Kristin's saga.
 
We see Kristin's first experiences with love and lust, and how her life unfolds as a result of a fateful decision to place her heart in the hands of the passionate, feckless Erlend Nikulaussøn. Kristin's defiance of her family, particularly her father, has consequences that resonate over the decades that follow, from her early motherhood to her eventual widowhood and involvement in the lives of her adult sons.
 
We're drawn into the story of the volatile marriage of Kristin and Erlend, the implications for her life and the lives of her children, and her efforts to atone for bringing scandal to her family. Kristin is a sympathetic character and her story is particularly relevant for young people today, in our climate of sexual irresponsibility and "relationships" that amount to "friends with benefits." Although family dynamics may be different today - and women face a wider variety of options as they discern their vocations - the underlying message that our individual choices affect not only us but our families is a powerful one.
 
Catholicism is subtly woven throughout the novel, providing windows into the practice of the faith hundreds of years ago and timeless moral themes as reflected through Kristin's experiences. Yet it does not read like a fable written to instruct - Undset is unsparing in her depiction of the consequences of various characters' misdeeds, and we can draw our own lessons.
 
Kristin also shows us that a "strong woman" can be thoroughly devoted to the service of her family and the care of her home - without glamorizing the duties of a medieval noblewoman, Undset shows us the expertise required to manage a household. 
 
I wish I'd read Kristin Lavransdatter earlier in life. I look forward to sharing it with my own children, particularly my daughter. Highly recommended.
 
 

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