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Winter is the perfect time to step into Sigrid Unset’s 14th-century Norway to follow the tragic life of Kristin Lavransdatter. Tina Nunnally’s accessible English translations of The Wreath, The Wife, and The Cross are rich in textual subtleties, each book emerging as a tapestry of motifs and themes that deeply resonate with theology, philosophy, history and other great works of literature. Though the books are carefully embedded in the medieval age and were originally penned in the 1920s, their themes are strangely modern and relevant for today, especially for Christians.

In The Wreath, a young Kristin defies her father’s plans for betrothal, instead choosing an illicit relationship with Erlend Nikulaussøn, an excommunicated and impetuous nobleman from the estate of Husaby. She bears the shame of her passionate romance, even as she is formally betrothed and wed to Erlend.

The Wife continues with Kristin’s move to Husaby and her increased remorse over her sins and careless decisions. She is exhausted from giving birth to seven sons and from managing the estate, as Erlend embarks on ambitious political ploys that eventually lead to his demise.

The increasing tensions between Erlend and Kristin lead to their separation in The Cross, when Erlend leaves Kristin’s childhood home – where they now live – to take residence at his late aunt’s house. The final book in the trilogy is full of catastrophes, from death to false accusations of adultery, and ends with the Black Plague.

The Kristin Lavransdatter trilogy is written more in the vein of Shakespeare’s tragedies than his comedies, and are not light or feel-good reads. But those who choose to stay beside Kristin, witnessing the bleakness of life in her medieval Norway, will be rewarded with an epic that has few peers in its clear-eyed wrestling with the great problem of sin and the true cost of redemption. (Penguin Classics)

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