About a decade ago, I was reading tons of doctrinal and theological works, and I had no interest in novels.
Then one day, I was watching an EWTN program called Bookmark. They were discussing a novel (actually a trilogy) about a 14th century Norwegian girl named Kristin Lavransdatter. I was especially interested to hear that the author, Sigrid Undset, was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1928 for this body of work. (Although Undset was not a Catholic when she wrote Kristin's story, she did later convert to Catholicism.)
Now, normally I would not be interested in a decades-old historical novel set in a country to which I have no connection and in an era with which I am not acquainted. However, there was something compelling about the thought of following a young Catholic girl as she transforms -- physically, emotionally and spiritually -- through all the stages of her life.
From what was being discussed on the TV show, I knew I would relate to this fictional character both as a woman and at the level and themes of our shared Catholic faith.
Plus, it seemed super cool and important to read a work that had won a Nobel Prize!!!!! :)
Soooo, I bought the first book. And it sat on my shelf for about two years.
Finally, when I grew weary of doctrinal books, I picked it up. Not only did it live up to the expectations that I'd set for it, it exceeded them. The seven hundred years that separated Kristin's world from mine melted away. I quickly read the next two books in the series, and I can tell you that I've never been sadder to say good-bye to a literary character. In fact, I think I refused to say good-bye, as Kristin (and old Norway) has stayed with me through the past eight years. The minute I finished the books, I knew I would re-read them.
Kristin's story is divided into the three main epochs of her life:
Kristin Lavransdatter I: The Wreath. The story of Kristin from childhood up through her engagement.
Kristin Lavransdatter II: The Wife. Kristin as a wife and mother.
Kristin Lavransdatter III: The Cross. The conclusion and redemption of Kristin's life.
**If you decided to read the trilogy, make sure you get the Tiina Nunnally translation (from the original Norwegian).
Let's just say that Kristin is not a perfect woman. Like all of us, she is very real, flawed and complex. Although I connected with Kristin profoundly, I know at least two people who couldn't get past her deeper character flaws to embrace her. (But they still loved the books).
After reading Undset's masterpieces, I became enamored again with novels, and specifically Catholic novels.
Good literature enriches the mind and the soul, so if any of you have good novel recommendations, please let me know!