That's the name of the book I read yesterday. It's a debut novel by a young Australian writer (b. 1985), Hannah Kent, who went to Iceland as a teenager on a Rotary E.xchange. That's where she first heard of Agnes Magnúsdóttir, a double murderer, the last person to be publicly beheaded in Iceland in 1830. After ten years of research, Kent published Burial Rites in 2013. It's fiction based on real events. Genuine documents, letters and extracts, translated from original sources, begin each chapter. It's geographically accurate as well, set in North Iceland and many of the places (ruins) still exist. Kent consulted scholars, librarians, archivists and "ordinary" people, plus local accounts, legends and 19th century journals by foreign travellers, as well as books and articles about the murders, all the while continuing her education. She completed her PhD at Flinders University in Adelaide in 2011, winning an inaugural contest for best unpublished manuscript, the one that became Burial Rites that garnered a total seven-figure advance from three different publishers in Austraiia, the UK and the USA. Not bad for a 28-year-old writer.
Well, I liked it because of my Icelandic roots. I don't know what other people's reasons are. Maybe the fact that it is well-written, a kind of a mystery, and quite feminist, oh yes, and Scandinavian - very hot these days. The friend who lent it to me was stunned by the depiction of poverty and the hunger and cold people suffered. I reminded her of Independent People by Halldor Laxness (Nobel Laureate, 1955) that also described hunger and deprivation as a given. If people survived there, they had to be tough and they must have passed on tough genes which is probably one of the main reasons I am alive and well at my advanced age. Right now I am also half way through Confessions of an Immigrant's Daughter (Governor General's Award Winner for 1939) by Lara Goodman Salverson. You can't read much about Iceland without encountering cold, hunger and discomfort, to put it mildly.
SOW, I'm late for my swim. Time to get cold. And I have to wash my hair today