I have come to look forward to these Olav Audunssøn books!
It is medieval Norway – the 1300’s – a time of great upheaval for the country from internal politics to neighboring conflicts with Sweden and Denmark. And what is happening on a country-sized scaled is reflected in the life of Olav Audunssøn, a moderately wealthy land owner racked with guilt over past events and his estrangement from his son, and who wonders what the future holds for someone like himself, now in midlife and looking toward his waning years.
Olav accepts an opportunity to be a part of a merchant ship headed to England – though this is clearly more about Olav trying to escape his past than it is about being on a merchant ship or traveling to England.
In England Olav meets a woman, at church, who he at first thinks is his beloved Ingunn (though clearly it can’t be). The resemblance is so striking to Olav that he imagines this woman with all of Ingunn’s traits and when he believes she’s inviting him back to her home (he doesn’t speak her language nor she, his) he’s full-on in his Ingunn fantasy. But reality teaches him a hard lesson.
Olav returns home to a son who now stands up for himself and is ready to strike out on his own. But Olav won’t be alone for long … the Swedes are invading.
These books are so well written and so beautifully translated that the reader is pulled into the story and brought along on the journey. We don’t feel like observers, but participants.
This volume, in the four book series, had a bit of a Gulliver’s Travels feel to it – much more episodic with mini stories that each had their own solution (the sailing, the woman who looked like Ingunn, the confrontation with the son, invasion of the Swedes, etc) rather than all intertwined throughout the course of the novel.
This might be my least favorite of the books in the series that I’ve read so far. Olav behaves here ‘out of character’ for what we’ve seen of him to this point. While I recognize that he is changing – and struggling with his changing – the instance with the woman in England feels way too different from everything else we’ve seen of Olav.
But … the title of this volume is “Crossroads” and Olav is clearly at this intersection and wondering (and wandering) what the rest of his life holds in store. If there’s a sentence in this books which defines this volume it would be: “It became clearer to him how little a middle-aged man counted in the world when he’d been stripped of everything, such as property and powerful kinsmen, that increased his worth.”
The book ends with the clash with the Swedes and Olav taking on the new role of organizing a muster of farmers to protect and defend their land. I will be interested to see how much this plays into the final book.
Looking for a good book? Olav Audunssøn: III. Crossroads by Sigrid Undset and translated by Tiina Nunnally, is an absolutely engaging tale of a man in medieval Norway trying to find his path in life and understand how he fits in to God’s greater plan.
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: III. Crossroads
author: Sigrid Undset
translator: Tiina Nunnally
publisher: University of Minnesota Press
paperback, 216 pages