Sunday, November 8, 2009

Because This Book Really is Beautiful

My campaign to promote Kristin Lavransdatter as the Great Catholic Novel is gaining momentum, one reader at a time. In an early post, I laid out ten reasons why I find this trilogy by Nobel laureate Sigrid Undset (left) so moving. Now comes a letter from a friend—a non-Catholic—confirming the convincing spiritual power of this epic set in 14th-century Norway.

(Warning: The letter reveals the ending of Kristin's story, but takes away none of the pleasure of reading it.)

Dear Webster,

How often do we finish a book and sit there stunned and sad—that's it and there is no more. And so it was when I closed the cover on the 1,145-page trilogy Kristin Lavransdatter by Sigrid Undset. I wanted to read more. That was not to be as Undset had made closure with the life of Kristin. And so must I. She has become my benchmark for what the Nobel Prize in Literature should be.

I went to our local library to find more of Undset and found a copy of the 1935 volume—an earlier and more archaic translation. It has a beautiful sound and I'd probably enjoy reading it but won't because the font size is difficult for these old eyes, even with glasses. 

The years preceding the Black Death were unknown to me. Oh, I knew of them, but didn't know details of daily life and priorities. The landscape of Norway became vivid with its deep gorges edged by steep mountains. Kristin's life was ruled by the world surrounding her. That world was unlike any I've ever known but perhaps not far removed from the mountain people of East Tennessee who settled that area in the 1600s. It wasn't an easy life and yet it wasn't poverty. I was fascinated by the giving, the largesse, the hospitality extended to all who came to her door. Strangers were fed and given a place to sleep for the night—sharing a bed if need be. 

I was touched by Kristin's devotion and the presence of faith in her life. It seemed that most everything was accomplished with prayer or bargaining with God. Saying that, I was surprised when she climbed the mountain that last time to take vows to become a nun. Somehow she dealt with the issue of no longer being in control or not needed in the running of the household as a mother-in-law by taking her vows. At first, I was surprised thinking she had run away but then realized this was the natural extension of her life. She had always given and was a natural healer. 

For me, I treasured the beauty of her literature while absorbing a world of faith. Thank you for wanting to share this with me and providing one of those rare moments when a book ends and I didn't want it to. . . .

If after reading this you are still not ready to invest time in an epic like this, take a look at the fantastic assortment of reader suggestions posted in the past ten days in response to my question, What Catholic fiction has inspired you? The post and the comments are right here. And more suggestions can be found in this follow-up post. These will keep you busy for a while.