Kristin Lavransdatter: The Cross by Sigrid Undset (trans. Tiina Nunnally)

Kristin Lavransdatter is a trilogy, comprised of The Wreath, The Wife, and The Cross. As my single volume runs nearly 1200 pages, I thought you might permit me three book reviews. 🙂 Here is book three; book one was reviewed here and book two here.

In my reviews of the first two books of Kristin Lavransdatter, I went heavy on the spoilers. It felt difficult to discuss the plot, the action, even the development of the characters – let alone my reactions, without taking that route. I’m going to try to keep this one spoiler-free, though, which also keeps it brief.

In this final installment of Kristin’s life, I felt that she changes more than she did in the first two books. Her children grow up; her circumstances change significantly. Her family grows smaller, between the loss of her children (eventually eight) to death, marriage, and travel, and the deaths of many of her loved ones as she ages. Having done battle with Erlend until the very end, she is left with a sense of remorse that she didn’t appreciate him more, that she focused on the faults. As her world narrows, she’s relegated to the place of an old lady whose values (she’s told) are out of touch; she ends up retreating to a smaller world and focuses on her relationship with God. Kristin experiences a few reunions, towards the end, but the mood of the story continues to withdraw, becoming introspective, turning away from the world.

I found the ending a little strange, circling back as it does to Kristin being an object of admiration… but it did accomplish what felt like the right tone. Kristin Lavransdatter is a fascinating, thought-provoking study of one woman’s life in a time (and place) foreign to me, and to today’s readers generally. It was hard to believe, on finishing, that the trilogy spanned well over 1000 pages. It didn’t feel like it went on that long; it was just one lifetime. But it dealt with all the phases, moods, and issues one could hope. And it was a lovely glimpse into medieval Norway that I would not have otherwise encountered.

I agree with Erin that this is a unique and beautiful book. I also agree that the translation was of high quality, and I’m sorry for those (like my father) who tried older versions and were turned off. It’s long, but it’s an easy read. Check it out.

Rating: 5 babies (whew).

10 Responses

  1. I do love epic stories. I’ll keep an eye out for this one. I hope all has been well with you.

    • It’s a hefty one and definitely epic! Will look forward to hearing what you thought of it if/when it comes your way.

      Things are well here, TBM – nice to hear from you! I got way behind on your blog. Glad to hear the back is treating you a little better. 🙂

  2. Finding it fun to follow your views on one of my all time favourite books, I just want to point out that this is not supposed to be an easy read, it surely is not on Norwegian, which makes me fear for the translation:-) Sigrid Undset was a master of beautiful prose but also of writing between the lines and of reclaiming an ancient way to weave a history around family

    • I hear you. “Easy read” can of course mean lots of different things. I did find this to require minimum effort to keep going; it was entertaining and encouraged reading momentum. If you didn’t feel that it was easy, that’s fine. I just have one perspective!

    • religion and calendar. To me only the first book is easily penetrable, the two next are (almost) as much a struggle as a pleasure. So, I deduce that a) you’re a extremely seasoned reader, more so than your review suggests or b) Ms. Nunnelys translation is rather modernized.
      Thank you anyway for promoting a wonderful book! Will follow your blog for a bit.

      • So do I understand that you’ve read it in the Norwegian? I wouldn’t be able to speak to that, of course! I think I actually found the going easier in the last two books. The first was a little heavy on religion and guilt for my tastes (just a personal judgment). The second got a littler heavier on politics but I felt that it worked out fine. I wouldn’t say Nunnally’s translation was modernized; but the impression I get from folks who have seen both hers and the earlier one(s) agree that Nunnally’s reads smoother.

        The way in which this book is not “easy”, most obviously, is its length!

        As far as how “seasoned” a reader I may be… I have no idea how to respond to that. How many seasons do I need?

  3. Oh, sorry, I guess I’ve been maladroit:-( my English is far from perfect as you will have noticed… I may have been somewhat misled by your easy and unscholarly (or maybe just “not pompous”?;-) review.
    Should you ever come to Norway, be sure to visit one of the folk museums: seeing the actual kind of rassemblements of houses and outbuildings – and of course the spectacular nature – as described in the books takes the read to another level. But I ramble… Nighty night

    • Cathrine, no worries, “seasoned” is definitely a word that works in the sense that you used it. I just didn’t know how to take it. My parents just got home from traveling in Norway, in fact. Not sure when I’ll make it! But it sounds lovely. Have a good one.

  4. I first read the old translation and had no issues with it – the old language actually added to the atmosphere of the novel. Now, I am reading Nunnally’s translation for the first time and enjoying that too. This is my all time favorite piece of literature and I’ve read the whole thing at least four times. It’s always hard for me to believe that the characters did not really exist – they are so realistically portrayed in every detail.

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