“Burial Rites” by Hannah Kent

17333319An amazing literary debut from a young writer, Hannah Kent, describing in the most atmospheric way the last days of a young woman accused of murder. Agnes lives in the 19th century Island, when death penalty is still on. She is a young woman, who was abandoned early in her life by her single mother. Children outside marriage were not rare at the time, even though Church has done anything possible to make good Christians out of Island villagers. Yet again, everyone knew who the fathers were, those children were taken under church’s protection, to be send away as charwomen or workmen at the countryside farms. Somehow, Agnes gets involved in a double murder case and is kept imprisoned. She is sent to wait for her penalty along with a family at a farm.

 The family members are not happy with the situation, but they cannot do otherwise. The parents are afraid for their two daughters and what may happen by keeping a murderer in the house, sleeping all together in the same room. As time goes by, they are relieved by the extra pair of hands in the farm and they get used to having her among them.

The writing is clean and simple and giving all the details of 19th century Island countryside. Describing the people and their superstitions, the sagas and the believes. People were afraid of anything they could not understand, either that was a physical phenomenon or a clever woman. Men were the ones to set the rules and to decide upon life and death matters. Men usually would listen only to what they could understand of thought of importance, therefore some times innocent people were convicted. There were keen to convict the more the could, to spread the justice all over the valley and make an example of them. Could something similar have happened with Agnes’s story? Was she really guilty or she was a witch that killed in cold blood? Read the book and make your own minds!

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