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Culture Watch

In this issue: When I had finally finished The Master of Hestviken, I could hardly bear the realization that it wouldn’t be waiting by my chair of an evening, with yet another chapter to read. Great books are like great loves – delicious while they last, but when they’re done, they leave an empty room in your heart. South of Broad is rewarding because of its very richness of detail, its elaboration of social argument, its cast of people who are mostly larger than life.

by Sigrid Undset
©1928, 1929, and 1920 © renewal 1956, 1957, and 1958
Published by Alfred A. Knopf, Inc
Paperback: 994 pp.

In 2001, we began occasional reviews of older books that are particular favorites of Senior Women Web’s reviewers. I chose a book titled Kristin Lavransdatter, by Sigrid Undset, a Norwegian author who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1928.

Since then, I’ve come across a couple of snide comments concerning the relationship between her nationality and the Nobel she won. I can only reply with vigor that based on Kristin Lavransdatter alone, the prize was absolutely deserved, never mind the supposed link between Nobel’s country of origin and the nationality of the author. The Master of Hestviken has only confirmed my feelings in the matter.

Following that earlier review, I received a very nice letter from a reader who suggested that while she agreed that Kristin Lavransdatter was a wonderful book, she preferred Undset’s The Master of Hestviken. I have since lost that reader’s name and email address, so I cannot send her my thanks directly – but dear lady, if you’re out there and still reading SWW reviews, please know that I do thank you most heartily. It took me a long time to get around to it, but I’m glad I persevered.

None of the libraries in my city have the book on the shelves, nor did the bookstores, but came through with a used but viable copy (and according to the listings, has several more on tap).

Sigrid Undset (1882-1949) was a remarkable woman. Her life is far too complex to repeat here. Suffice it to say that she is one of the great women of the 20th century: wife, mother, authority on the Middle Ages, writer, freedom fighter, and winner of the Nobel laureate.

This edition of The Master of Hestviken is actually four related novels issued in one paperback. Entitled “The Axe,”The Snake Pit,” “In the Wilderness,” and “The Son Avenger,” the dramatic titles of the four novels sound like something out of modern pulp fiction. They are, I assure you, nothing at all like pulp fiction, even though you may need to keep a little list of who is who, so that you can keep track of many characters with similar names. The effort is well worth the bit of time involved to keep things straight.

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