It is interesting for me that I just purchased a set of Sigrid Undet’s Kristin Lavransdatter series because it looked very interesting to me. And shortly after doing so, I find out that translator extraordinaire Tiina Nunnally has translated a different series by Undest. My ancestors are Scandinavian (Swedish, Norwegian, Danish) and I’ve been doing a lot of ancestry research lately, so literature that gives me a feel for life in medieval Scandinavian has a special appeal for me.
Olav Audunssøn’s father is dying and the father asks his old friend, Steinfinn Toressøn, to raise his boy when he passes on. Steinfinn agrees to raise the child as his foster son and also promises that Olav will be betrothed to Steinfinn’s daughter, Ingunn. Olav and Ingunn then spend their youth as both siblings, knowing they will be husband and wife as they get older.
But Olav and Ingunn couldn’t be much more different from one another and the medieval time in which they live is turbulent as church rules and law clash. There are some in the community who don’t believe they are legally married but for Olav and Ingunn all that matters is that they’ve been intimate and they believe they are married.
But when Steinfinn passes away, Olav and Ingunn travel to the city of Hamar to ask the church to bless their union. The Church, however, is trying to enforce more control over religious behavior and makes this difficult.
Olav does some traveling and is gone for a decade and Ingunn combats her loneliness by being extra friendly with a young man who works for a local priest. This has Ingunn and Olav examining their relationship upon his return.
Undset’s writing, and Nunnally’s translation, is beautiful and extremely accessible. We get drawn in to the story by the language, we are held in the story by the remarkable characters who are ordinary and real and fascinating.
In many ways this reminds us that everyone has a story to tell. You don’t need to be a superhero or the leader of a rebels in a dystopian world to be worth reading about. You can be a young couple in medieval Norway, looking to find your own way and dealing with the changes going on in the world and have a story worth sharing.
But there’s so much going on here. In addition to the story of these two people, we are getting a story about a country going through a religious revolution and a Church finding itself in a position to influence its beliefs into a government, through the people. The title “Vows” is incredibly apt here, telling not only of the vows people make to each other, but the religious significance of vows.
I enjoyed this and am eager to dig into the Kristin Lavransdatter series but will wait until I’ve read the rest of the books in the Olav Audunssøn series.
Looking for a good book? Olav Audunssøn: I. Vows by Sigrid Undset and translated by Tiina Nunnally is a book you don’t just read, but experience, and this is well worth experiencing.
I received a digital copy of this book from the publisher, through Netgalley, in exchange for an honest review.
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Olav Audunssøn: I. Vows
author: Sigrid Undset
translator: Tiina Nunnally
publisher: Univ of Minnesota Press
paperback, 336 pages