EXCERPT: "Burial Rites,” by Hannah Kent

  • Updated: September 21, 2013 - 2:00 PM

"Burial Rites," by Hannah Kent.

As a teenager, Hannah Kent traveled to Iceland, and that is where she heard the true story of Agnes Magnusdottir, who was publicly beheaded in 1830 for the murder of two men. Her novel, “Burial Rites,” is based on the life and death of Agnes.

Kent will read at 7 p.m. Monday at Magers & Quinn in Minneapolis. Here is how her book begins:

They said I must die. They said that I stole the breath from men, and now they must steal mine. I imagine, then, that we are all candle flames, greasy-bright, fluttering in the darkness and the howl of the wind, and in the stillness of the room I hear footsteps, awful coming footsteps, coming to blow me out and send my life up away from me in a gray wreath of smoke. I will vanish into the air and the night. They will blow us all out, one by one, until it is only their own light by which they see themselves. Where will I be then?

Sometimes I think I see it again, the farm, burning in the dark. Sometimes I can feel the ache of winter in my lungs, and I think I see the flames mirrored in the ocean, the water so strange, so flickered with light. There was a moment during that night when I looked back. I looked back to watch the fire, and if I lick my skin I can still taste the salt. The smoke.

It wasn’t always so cold.

I hear footsteps.

From “Burial Rites,” by Hannah Kent, published by Little, Brown & Co. Used with permission. All rights reserved.

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