I’ve read a couple of excellent books this year, the sort of books to savour and to think about for months afterwards.
Kristin Lavransdatter by Sigrid Undset – this is actually a trilogy that describes the life of a young Catholic woman living in Norway in the 1300s. The characters are utterly fascinating! Kristin’s father is devout and exemplary. He has the qualities of a man born to be a leader, but instead moves to a small and unimportant part of Norway to work as a farmer so his wife will be – well, not quite happy, but at least less mournful. And even there in the back country, he finds opportunities to live out his faith. I loved the small details the author included about Lavrans, like how his eyes would be red-rimmed after confession. He’s generous to his servants, he works so hard, he even takes in two orphaned girls and raises them as his own children. It’s a remarkable account. Kristin herself is fascinating, too, in a different way. Lavrans has smaller struggles in his life, while Kristin chooses to act unvirtuously and really spends the rest of her life wrestling with the choice between sin and God. There is so much here to reflect on. I totally recommend this book!
That Distant Land by Wendell Berry – this book is a collection of short stories mostly about farmers in a little out-of-the-way part of Kentucky. Wendell Berry has this amazing ability to notice all the little details about a person – shirt untucked, hair sticking up, hat clutched in a hand – and uses those little details to figure out the bigger picture about a person, too. I absolutely adored this book, and can’t wait to read more by Mr. Berry!
(PS – I listened to this as an audiobook and loved Michael Kramer’s reading of the book.)
The Island of the World by Michael O’Brien – this book tells the difficult story of Josip, a young boy growing up in Croatia during WWII. The first half of the book is filled with unspeakable suffering, but there is also much beauty and grace. When I read Gone With the Wind several years ago, I was left with a restless heart over Scarlett’s incredible, unflinching selfishness – and the opposite was true with this book. I was undone by Josip’s quiet strength; my heart grew through reading of his forgiveness and his sacrificing selflessness. A book to remember. And for a much better review of the book, read this blog post!