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Burial Rites by Hannah Kent

Burial Rites
by Hannah Kent
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Format: Kindle, ARC
Published: Sept. 10th, 2013 by Little, Brown & Co.
Genre: Historical Fiction, literature

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"A brilliant literary debut, inspired by a true story: the final days of a young woman accused of murder in Iceland in 1829.

Set against Iceland's stark landscape, Hannah Kent brings to vivid life the story of Agnes, who, charged with the brutal murder of her former master, is sent to an isolated farm to await execution.

Horrified at the prospect of housing a convicted murderer, the family at first avoids Agnes. Only Tóti, a priest Agnes has mysteriously chosen to be her spiritual guardian, seeks to understand her. But as Agnes's death looms, the farmer's wife and their daughters learn there is another side to the sensational story they've heard.

Riveting and rich with lyricism, BURIAL RITES evokes a dramatic existence in a distant time and place, and asks the question, how can one woman hope to endure when her life depends upon the stories told by others?" -goodreads


“You, Agnes Magnúsdóttir, have been found guilty of accessory to murder. You, Agnes Magnúsdóttir, have been found guilty of arson, and conspiracy to murder. You, Agnes Magnúsdóttir, have been sentenced to death. You, Agnes. Agnes. They don’t know me.” (loc. 366)
This story tells a fictitious version of the tale of Agnes Magnúsdóttir, the last person to be executed in Iceland. Here, we read the story of her past and her present, and how the two merged into her future of execution. Has justice been served, or is this all just a huge misunderstanding? This book will make you think twice about accusations and punishments, and how society views outweigh the view of truth.
“I understood that these people did not see me. I was two dead men. I was a burning farm. I was a knife. I was blood.” (loc. 425)
In all, it is a beautifully written story that had me in tears at the end. This book started off a bit slow, and lagged a bit in the middle, but as the subject matter was interesting, I kept reading because I just wanted to get to know Agnes more, as well as what happened and how the murders came to happen. After all that happened in the book, I had forgotten that she (as mentioned in the synopsis) was the last person to be executed in Iceland, but I kept rooting for justice and that she could get spared.
“As though prayer could simply pluck sin out. But any woman knows that a thread, once woven, is fixed in place; the only way to smooth a mistake is to let it all unravel.” (loc. 1182)
With this book, you get an idea of Iceland in that era, including how the government worked, how day to day life was, as well as great descriptions of the scenery and environment. Hannah Kent’s writing is not only descriptive and somber, but beautiful and poetic as well. The symbology of birds (freedom,) more specifically ravens were noted as they brought on foreshadowing. How those blind to injustice misconstrued the collective noun for a flock of ravens to mean A Conspiracy, when those who were willing to listen recalled that it’s actually An Unkindness says a lot about how Agnes was seen in her company’s eyes. The author does a great job of really plopping the audience down in the middle of this historical setting and guiding our eyes and ears throughout. I like how the characters attitudes have changed throughout the book towards Agnes. Once she finally showed her true character (a hard working woman) and shared her version of events, she was seen in a different light, but because the people in power did not want to see this light, it was extinguished.
“Criminal. The word hangs in the air. Heavy, unmoved by the bluster of the wind. I want to shake my head. That word does not belong to me, I want to say. It doesn’t fit me or who I am. It’s another word, and it belongs to another person.” (loc. 740)
This is a moving story that I would recommend if you love historical fiction with intrigue and great, although emotional, backstory. This is a story of faith, love, hardships and injustice. This is the story of Agnes.

First Line: “They said I must die.” (loc. 51)
Last Line: “Actum ut supra” (loc. 3807)


“Death happened, and in the usual way that it happens, and yet, not like anything else at all.” (loc. 1621)

“The weight of his fingers on mine, like a bird landing on a branch. It was the drop of the match. I did not see that we were surrounded by tinder until I felt it burst into flames.” (loc. 2275)

Galley provided by NetGalley via Little, Brown and Company

*Quotes are from uncorrected advanced galleys and may change before going to press. Please refer to the final printed book for official quotes.

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