In Burial Rites, Agnes Magnusdottir's story begins in her Icelandic prison cell and ends on a frigid January morning in 1830 - her head impaled on a stake and her body buried in an unmarked grave as a warning to all harboring ill-intent. The trial had been swift; Agnes, a neighboring farmhand and his fiancee were found guilty of murder. The punishment severe; Agnes and the farmhand were sentenced to death, the other woman to life imprisonment. But what drove Agnes, a 34 year old servant and field hand documented as having an "excellent intellect, and strong knowledge and understanding of Christianity," to assist in the brutal stabbing death of her employer?
Author Hannah Kent heard about the trial when she lived in Iceland as an exchange student. Though the case was sensationalized and well-documented, few details were available more than a century and a half later. Haunted by Agnes and driven to learn more, Kent returned to Iceland. She spent four years accessing parish records, censuses, publications and interviewing locals - breathing life into Agnes as a woman imprisoned at birth by poverty, abandonment and the constraints placed on females in the 19th century.
Burial Rites is an outstanding debut novel and was listed for numerous International literary awards, including the Mann Booker Prize. Jennifer Lawrence and Hunger Games director Gary Ross are in negotiations to produce the film. I rarely look forward to film adaptations, but the sheer beauty of both the content and the location of this novel will lend itself well to the big screen. Can you say Oscar in Icelandic?