Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Burial Rites

A great deal of the early discussion today was how we managed to put two difficult and very sad books back to back.  Peggy suggested that we go around the table and state how many stars we gave the book and why.  This gave everyone an opportunity to give an assessment without accompanying discussion and it was interesting how many loved the writing and would have given five stars, but ultimately downgraded it to a three because of the harsh and desperately painful story.

I suggested that we compare and contrast it with last months book, The Orchardist, since both dealt with abandoned and orphaned children who ran afoul of the law in the 19th century. That thread was brief and promptly expanded to include modern examples of neglect and abuse.

Darlene had some insights as her grandparents are from Iceland and it's her background that brought the book to her attention.The Museum of Iceland has an exhibit of this final execution and I found information that you can read here.  The exhumed bodies are now buried in a churchyard.   Both Jenny and Connie T. did some online research on the country and said that now Expedia sends them emails and wants to help them plan their upcoming visits.  Mary couldn't help contrast this harsh life with the Iceland of today which is a world leader in social justice and responsibility.

And as Joanne noted, this account is fictionalized so we simply cannot know if the real Agnes had goodness in her heart or was in truth a cold-blooded murderer.  Kathy asked us what we would have done were we in that circumstance.  Could we dispatch a loved one with a knife?  It seems unimaginable to us in our 21st century lives.

Joanne thought it was cruel to give Agnes hope and a life and then abruptly notify her that her time was up.  She wondered if she would have been better off before she was moved because Magret's kindness and fairness made her think about what might have been.

We could only talk about the Agnes that Hannah Kent wrote for us, who had learned Nathan's apothecary and was a competent herbalist.  We felt that Bjorn Blondal selfishly wanted her execution to incur favor with the Danish government.  Her death was no skin off his teeth but the community lost a healer that they could sore afford to lose.  One thing we did all agree on was an appreciation for the history and for what we learned, especially the dependency on Denmark, the mud hovels that they lived in with a badstofa living/sleeping room, the hunger and the never-ending cold.

We talked about the reason we belong to a book group - to read the books that we don't normally gravitate to and then on our own read the popular and fun books. Kareen said that we all need to look for more books like "Where Did You Go Bernadette" to put on our list for next year.  That was our homework assignment.