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Gunnar's Daughter

Gunnar's Daughter - Sigrid Undset, Sherrill Harbison, Arthur G. Chater Growing up, my mom tried to do the Asian mom thing and ban TV during the weekdays. So of course, I binge watched trashy daytime TV during holidays while she was at work. The TV was basically on from the time she left to an hour before she got home -- you know, so the TV would be cool to the touch if she was inclined to check. From 12-3pm, I watched All My Children (RIP), One Life to Live, and General Hospital. General Hospital was the only one I ended up watching regularly.I loved the wealthy and ruthless Quartermaines:the hot but evil Cassadines:and the lovable, All American Spencers.Remember, this was the era before Wikipedia so the only backstory I knew was that Luke and Laura Spencer's wedding was the most watched daytime event in history and Elizabeth Taylor even made a special appearance. Imagine my shock when I found out that the Luke and Laura story began when Luke RAPED Laura. You know, because he loved her and wanted her SO much. Apparently in Port Charles, first comes love, then comes rape, then comes the baby in a baby carriage.So what do my tragic TV memories have to do with Gunnar's Daughter? Let me explain.Vigdis Gunnarsdatter is beautiful and headstrong. Her doting father welcomes two men into their house. The younger man, Ljot, is tall, dark, and handsome. He quickly falls for lively, intelligent Vigdis and asks for her hand in marriage. Vigdis is also smitten but, feeling unready, she asks him to wait for her answer. Soon after, Vigdis's childhood friend Kaare, another dashing Viking specimen, comes by and shows up Ljot. His pride injured, Ljot reacts brashly and suddenly assumes the worst about Vigdis and Kaare and her noncommittal answer to his proposal. Still, he wants to marry her and asks her again for her hand. She responds,"You cannot have loved me so much either; no sooner did you hear evil spoken of me than you believed it and spread it abroad."So then, because he loves Vigdis as much as Luke loved Laura, he rapes her. After he's done, he assumes Vigdis will want to run off with him and become some Scandinavian Ljot and Laura. Vigdis throws a rock in his face. Finally, a proper reaction.However, in addition to the physical and emotional pain of the rape, Ljot leaves Vigdis with one more thing -- she's pregnant with his child. This is really where the story begins, and it is a great story. I picked this book up after scouring my local bookstore for authors whose name start with "U" for the A-Z Author Challenge, and I nearly gave up after the first page (I mean, really, FOUR footnotes on the FIRST page?!?). Fortunately, I stuck with it and was pleasantly surprised by this very readable story. Sigrid Undset manages to write an epic that deals with vengeance, consequence, family, and love in a scant 200 pages. And this book, published in 1909 and set in the 11th century, deals with the issue of rape in a way that leaves modern writers in the dust. Undset follows the lives of both the victim and the perpetrator after the rape, but Vigdis refuses to live victimized. She is up there with Evanjalin in terms of female characters who kick ass. Ljot is also not your stock villain, and he regrets what he did, but Undset and Vigdis refuse to romanticize or condone him. He also lives with the consequences of his actions and has the most beautifully twisted line towards the end of the book.Books like this are why I do random reading challenges. They're not what I would normally pick up, but they end up being worthwhile and rewarding. I highly recommend this short saga. It's no wonder that Sigrid Undset ended up winning the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1928. Gunnar's Daughter is a stunning debut novel.