The Mercies by Kiran Millwood Hargrave
Published by Little, Brown and Company, 2020
My rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
The divide of gender, the dark side of religion, and the resilience of the human spirit are placed beneath the microscope in this evocative historical novel, inspired by real life tragedy.
It’s 1617 and a violent storm has claimed the lives of 40 fishermen off the coast of Vardø, a remote Norwegian settlement. Aside from a handful of elders, this amounts to almost the entire male population, leaving behind a devastated community of women and children. These women spend the next three years establishing a newfound self-sufficiency while navigating their immense collective grief. This matriarchy is interrupted by the arrival of Absalom Cornet, a God-fearing Christian and renowned witch hunter from Scotland. He is summoned by the King of Norway to bring the women of Vardø to heel once more, and to stamp out any lingering trace of native Sámi culture—its spiritualism and strong ties to the land considered an obstacle to establishing absolute reverence for his own God.
With subtlety and tact, Kiran Millwood Hargrave explores the ingrained societal roles that define and separate us, with a particular focus on the trappings of gender and religion. Though distressed by their losses, the women of Vardø experience an unexpected liberty when forced to take over duties once reserved for men.
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