(Review) Alina: A Song for the Telling by Malve von Hassell

Publisher and Publication Date: BHC Press. August 27, 2020.
Genre: Historical fiction. Coming of age story. Middle ages.
Pages: 232.
Source: I received a paperback copy of the title from the author/publisher for the purpose of an honest review.  I was not compensated for this review: all conclusions are my own responsibility.
Audience: Middle grade readers. Historical fiction readers.
Rating: Very good.

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Malve von Hassell

About the Author:
Malve von Hassell is a freelance writer, researcher, and translator. She holds a Ph. D. in anthropology from the New School for Social Research. Working as an independent scholar, she published several books and journal articles, in particular, The Struggle for Eden: Community Gardens in New York City (Bergin & Garvey 2002) and Homesteading in New York City 1978-1993: The Divided Heart of Loisaida (Bergin & Garvey 1996). She has also edited her grandfather Ulrich von Hassell’s memoirs written in prison in 1944, Der Kreis schließt sich – Aufzeichnungen aus der Haft 1944 (Propylaen Verlag 1994). She has taught at Queens College, Baruch College, Pace University, and Suffolk County Community College, while continuing her work as a translator and writer. She has published a children’s picture book, Letters from the Tooth Fairy (Mill City Press, 2012), and completed a manuscript for a historical fiction book set in the 13th century for young adults, Falconello. She is working on a historical fiction novel set in Jerusalem in the time of the crusades.

Summary:
Alina: A Song for the Telling is the coming-of-age story of a young woman from Provence in the 12th century who travels to Jerusalem, where she is embroiled in political intrigue, theft, murder, and finds her voice.

“You should be grateful, my girl. You have no dowry, and I am doing everything I can to get you settled. You are hardly any man’s dream.”

Alina’s brother Milos pulled his face into a perfect copy of Aunt Marci’s sour expression, primly pursing his mouth. He got her querulous tone just right. Maybe Alina’s aunt was right. She could not possibly hope to become a musician, a trobairitz—impoverished as she was and without the status of a good marriage. But Alina refuses to accept the life her aunt wants to impose on her.

At the first opportunity, she and her brother embark on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land to pray for their father’s soul and to escape from their aunt and uncle’s strictures. Their journey east takes them through the Byzantine Empire all the way to Jerusalem, where Alina is embroiled in political intrigue, theft, and murder.

Forced by a manipulative, powerful lord at court into acting as an informer, Alina tries to protect her wayward brother, while coming to terms with her attraction to a French knight.

My Thoughts:
Reasons why I like this story!
~Alina is a mature 14 year old. Her brother Milo is a year younger. I feel Hassell portrayed both as young people on the cusp of figuring out who they are and what they want in life. Alina has a desire to be a woman troubadour. This is an occupation and career during an era when females married and had children. She has strong character traits that only develop as the story continues. So, I feel her character evolves and transforms.
~Alina and Milo are typical brother and sister. They tease, give each other a hard time, and boss one another. However, they are devoted to one another, and this shows by their compassion and faithfulness. I love this about the brother and sister and it makes the story endearing.
~I had not read another story about pilgrims traveling to the Holy Land. Some of my questions were answered because of the story.
~The King of Jerusalem and his family were not people I’ve studied. This story gave me (even thought it’s historical fiction) a better idea of who they were.
~The story was descriptive whether it is a market place, palace, Jewish home, or scenery along the way to the Holy Land.
~There is a strong teaching element at the conclusion of the story. I found other places where the story reveals a lesson learned.

Themes in the story: ambition, loyalty, family love, perseverance, maturity, gratitude, courage, and compassion.

(Review) Gunnar’s Daughter by Sigrid Undset

Publisher and Publication Date: Penguin Classic. Published in Norway-1909. First published in America by Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., 1936. My paperback copy-1998.
Genre: Scandinavian historical fiction. Women and literature. Classic literature.
Pages: 162.
Source: Self-purchase.
Audience: Readers of historical fiction. Readers of women’s stories.
Rating: Excellent.

Link for the book at Amazon.

Sigrid Undset: Goodreads author page.

Sigrid Undset: winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1928.

Further links of interest:
Catholic Education
Britannica

Sigrid Undset (1882-1949)

Summary:
11th century. Norway and Iceland.
Gunnar’s Daughter is Vigdis Gunnarsdatter. She is the surviving child of Gunnar of Vadin. He is the owner of a large manor near a river in Norway.
When the story begins the description of Vigdis shows she is spoiled, quiet, stoic, and richly dressed. She had to be encouraged to be friendly to guests in their home. The guests are 2 men named Veterlide and Ljot. They are from Iceland. Ljot (pronounced Yot) is the younger man who is quickly smitten with Vigdis. A romantic relationship began between the young couple, but her father said no to marriage.

My Thoughts:
I recently read a historical fiction story titled The Historians. This story is Scandinavian historical fiction with a setting in Sweden during WWII. It was through this story I was introduced to a list of Scandinavian historical fiction books on Goodreads. There are several lists on Goodreads that have Sigrid Undset’s books. I searched online for more information about Undset. Her life itself is an interesting story, especially during the World War II years.

I love big books. I love chunkster books that take weeks to read. I love long sentences and paragraphs. I love lengthy descriptive writing. I love long tales that need several pots of tea to finish. Gunnar’s Daughter is not that kind of book. It is a big and powerful story, but it’s cradled in a small package. This tells me excellent stories can be written in less than 200 pages.

Before reading this story I knew little about Scandinavian history and culture, especially during the middle ages. During the time period of Gunnar’s Daughter, Christianity is new to Norway. King Olav is a Christian. He has embraced this religion by being baptized. After Sigrid talked with Olav, she too asked to be baptized. But in regards to understanding the belief system of Christianity this is not taught. Being baptized didn’t change Sigrid’s heart. It didn’t change her goal for revenge. Gunnar’s Daughter is not a Christian story. Christianity is so new to the Scandinavian land, people have not come to regard certain ways of doing things as pagan. I wanted to make this point because it effects the story.

Sigrid is a picture of what happens to women when they are sexually abused. Her abuse is not described in graphic detail. The lasting trauma of her abuse is a large part of the story. Her response to men. Her response to life choices. Her deep depression. The anger and bitterness is bigger than forgiveness and love.

The story reminds me of an oral tale or saga. A story people knew by memory and told to others during the middle ages. Much later it was written down for reading. The sentences and conversations are short for memory purpose.

Ljot is a character I don’t want to like. I don’t want to feel sorry for him. Sigrid Undset created a character who is an ogre yet I feel sympathy.

The ending is heartbreaking. It reminds me of a poem my mother loved.
“Sow a thought and you reap an action; sow an act and you reap a habit; sow a habit and you reap a character; sow a character and you reap a destiny.” ― Ralph Waldo Emerson

Some examples of themes in the story: family honor, revenge, rape, shame, courage, obsession, redemption, and jealousy.