Based on real events, this work of fiction by Hannah Kent gives readers an intimate portrait of the final year of Agnes Magnusdottir's life before she is to be executed for murder. Agnes was the last person executed in Iceland and numerous truths and tales abound regarding the famous murders and the convicted criminals.
Agnes finds herself in the reluctant custody of a farming family awaiting her execution. She has requested the young assistant priest, Toti, to help her through her final days. Shunned and ignored by nearly all in the family, Agnes' conversations with the priest are often her only source of human comfort. Slowly Agnes begins to share bits of her life, but can anyone ever see her for more than that of which she has been convicted? Can inexperienced Toti really help a convicted criminal prepare to meet her own execution?
This story is deeply powerful, and exceptionally human. The characters, many of whom were in fact real people, are crafted in careful detail with all the curves and dents and sharp edges that are inextricable to the human experience. The dark as well as the light, mixed up with the hardships of life, especially in a place and time where survival was too often marked with desperation and pain.
Within the sod walls where all in a household, servants and masters alike, share the work, food, drink, sweat, cold, stench, and chamber pot. They sleep in the same room, tend shared flocks, dig the same rocky soil urging what few bitter greens and potatoes will to grow, and celebrate the harvest with neighbors. The shared experience of surviving harsh winters, watching loved ones die, and hearing The Sagas recited by the glow of a hearth knitted people together.
Despite the gray horizons, cutting blizzards, and backbreaking work depicted, the people and land of Iceland leave a deep impression. For me it is one of deep respect for those who lived through those ages. Kent's portrait of Iceland is beautifully written and makes me ache to walk those valleys, cast my eyes upon the rugged mountains, and breath in the frigid crisp fjord air.
This book is raw and unapologetic in it's portrayal of servant life in that era, but in being so, one truly understands the characters and their situations as if you were witnessing it rather than merely reading about it. An appreciated and impressive skill by the author in my opinion.
This is a touching story, a moving one, the kind that sticks with you for a long time. The kind that makes you reflective, somber, and solemn. The kind that settles heavy in your gut. Probably because it is true, and that this reminds us that stories have many sides, people have many layers, colors, and untold truths. It reminds us that we are mortal, that life can change in an instant, and that we can so easily and vainly lose it all.
Rating: RD - (Reader Discrection adviced due to some language and raw content based on historical life.)