(Review) Gunnar’s Daughter by Sigrid Undset

Publisher and Publication Date: Penguin Classic. Published in Norway-1909. First published in America by Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., 1936. My paperback copy-1998.
Genre: Scandinavian historical fiction. Women and literature. Classic literature.
Pages: 162.
Source: Self-purchase.
Audience: Readers of historical fiction. Readers of women’s stories.
Rating: Excellent.

Link for the book at Amazon.

Sigrid Undset: Goodreads author page.

Sigrid Undset: winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1928.

Further links of interest:
Catholic Education

Sigrid Undset (1882-1949)

11th century. Norway and Iceland.

Gunnar’s Daughter is Vigdis Gunnarsdatter. She is the surviving child of Gunnar of Vadin. He is the owner of a large manor near a river in Norway.

When the story begins the description of Vigdis shows she is spoiled, quiet, stoic, and richly dressed. She had to be encouraged to be friendly to guests in their home. The guests are 2 men named Veterlide and Ljot. They are from Iceland. Ljot (pronounced Yot) is the younger man who is quickly smitten with Vigdis. A romantic relationship began between the young couple, but her father said no to marriage.

My Thoughts:

I recently read a historical fiction story titled The Historians. This story is a Scandinavian historical fiction with a setting in Sweden during WWII. It was through this story I was introduced to a list of Scandinavian historical fiction books on Goodreads. There are several lists on Goodreads that have Sigrid Undset’s books. I searched online for more information about Undset. Her life itself is an interesting story, especially during the World War II years.

I love big books. I love chunkster books that take weeks to read. I love long sentences and paragraphs. I love lengthy descriptive writing. I love long tales that need several pots of tea to finish. Gunnar’s Daughter is not that kind of book. It is a big and powerful story, but it’s cradled in a small package. This tells me excellent stories can be written in less than 200 pages.

Before reading this story, I knew little about Scandinavian history and culture, especially during the Middle Ages. During the time period of Gunnar’s Daughter, Christianity is new to Norway. King Olav is a Christian. He has embraced this religion by being baptized. After Vigdis talked with Olav, she too asked to be baptized. But in regard to understanding the belief system of Christianity this is not taught. Being baptized didn’t change Vigdis’s heart. It didn’t change her goal for revenge. Gunnar’s Daughter is not a Christian story. Christianity is new to the Scandinavian land; people have not come to regard certain ways of doing things as pagan. I wanted to make this point because it effects the story.

Vigdis is a picture of what happens to women when they are sexually abused. Her abuse is not described in graphic detail. The lasting trauma of her abuse is a large part of the story. Her response to men. Her response to life choices. Her deep depression. The anger and bitterness are bigger than forgiveness and love.

The story reminds me of an oral tale or saga. A story people knew by memory and told to others during the Middle Ages. Much later it was written down for reading. The sentences and conversations are short for memory purpose.

Ljot is a character I don’t want to like. I don’t want to feel sorry for him. Sigrid Undset created a character who is an ogre yet I feel sympathy.

The ending is heartbreaking. It reminds me of a poem my mother loved.
“Sow a thought and you reap an action; sow an act and you reap a habit; sow a habit and you reap a character; sow a character and you reap a destiny.” ― Ralph Waldo Emerson

Some examples of themes in the story: family honor, revenge, rape, shame, courage, obsession, redemption, and jealousy.


(Review) The Historians by Cecelia Ekbäck

Publisher and Publication Date: HarperCollins Publishers. 2021.
Genre: World War II. Historical fiction. Spy. Espionage. Women and literature.
Pages: 464.
Source: I received a complimentary uncorrected eBook copy from NetGalley, I was not required to write a positive review.
Audience: Readers of war/spy/espionage stories.
Rating: Good.

Amazon link
I don’t know the release date for the eBook.
The audiobook releases December 8, 2020.
The paperback releases January 12, 2021.

The year is 1943.
World War II.
The Scandinavian countries are Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Denmark. Some lists omit Finland. Some lists add Iceland.
In 1940, Norway became occupied by Germany. Sweden is neutral, but Germany wants Sweden’s rich iron ore located in the north. Finland fought with both Germany and the Soviet Union. Denmark was neutral during the early part of the war.
When Laura Dahlgren found out her best friend Britta Hallberg had died, she began investigating the circumstances of her death despite her father telling her to stop.
At one time, Laura and Britta along with three young men had been college students and close friends. Laura tries to bring together the original group of friends to find out what happened to Britta.
During the investigation, Laura is led to Lapland (northern Finland) where the local people are disappearing.

My Thoughts:
I’ve gone back and forth on whether to give this book a good or very good rating. I’m not usually a half-star reviewer, but technically this book is 3 1/2 stars.
What I love most about the story is the location. I’ve since bought 3 Scandinavian historical fiction books. These books are Gunnar’s Daughter by Sigrid Undset, Kristin Lavrandsdatter by Sigrid Undset (3 books or volumes in this edition), and The Half-Drowned King by Linnea Hartsuyker.
A 2nd reason I love this story is the time period-World War II.
A 3rd reason I love this story is it taught me about a period in history and a country I knew little about.
What tipped the review to 3 and 1/2 stars is I feel it took too long to make it where the book came together in a form I enjoyed reading.
A 2nd point is I don’t understand the heightened affection for Britta. Britta is characterized as beloved (several times) and even idolized by Laura. Is there a background story I missed?
I also noticed the group of 5 friends had overlapping relationships where they became more than just friends. This is another background story that is not developed.
The relationship between Laura and her father is complex. Their conflict and the themes going along with it could make an excellent standalone story.
My last points made the story feel undeveloped and distracting.