Last week I shared my first thoughts about The Wreath by Sigrid Undset, translated into English by Tiina Nunnally. The story is about a young Norwegian girl named Kristin and how she grows into a strong-minded, assertive young woman in a time when such an attitude was not readily accepted by her family. Indeed, she was expected to do what her father dictated. The path she chooses is fraught with obstacles and challenges, too.
Now mind, the story takes place in the 14th century so there is a lot different about the society in which she is raised and which she resists from our present-day worldview here in the USA. Indeed, in many ways this story, first published in 1920, foreshadows our current existence in some ways. Kristin takes the reins of her life to steer her way through all obstacles and barriers, much like many women do today. She faced the same kinds of threats that women today do, as well: dismissal, subjugation, lewdness, overbearing men, even rape. (Why is it that men keep that weapon in their arsenal?)
One thing that reading this story brought forcibly home to me is that people do not change at their core despite new places, technologies, situations. Still, we tend to view each other as either an opportunity/known entity or a threat, and act accordingly. The characters within the covers of The Wreath seemed to reflect mostly the unsavory aspects of humanity. There were, to be fair, some religious people and kind people too, but most of the prominent figures had an ulterior motive of one kind or another at work. Even Kristin dealt underhandedly with her family all while rationalizing her choices up until the bitter end. Most likely the subterfuge people employ is still true today, as well.
I did enjoy the story overall after I’d adjusted to the different narration style and the unfamiliar names of people and places. But isn’t that part of the wonder of reading historical fiction from around the world and from different time periods? The opportunity to experience something different from my day-to-day life and activities. The concerns expressed by the people in The Wreath, while familiar and relatable, are also unique and otherworldly. This is the first story of a trilogy but I don’t think I’m interested enough to continue reading. Others probably will find it worthwhile, though!
Next up on my Historical Fiction Around the World series is Nigerian Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart. Off to the library I go!
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