Little did I realize when I read the opening pages of “Augusta’s Daughter” (Penfield books, 216 pages, $21.95) how brutal life was for European peasants and especially women a little more than a century ago.
Author Judit Martin, in her first novel, tells the story of Else-Carolina, who, as an old woman, returns from the United States to Sweden, the country of her birth.On the way, she tells her great-granddaughter the story of her life. The result is this lovely, sometimes harsh, but engrossing story of two women’s lives in Sweden in the late 1800s.
Young Augusta and Olov are working as housemaid and farmhand at Ekefors Manor, the only jobs available to the sons and daughters of landless peasants. When the son of the manor’s baron falls in love with Augusta and she becomes pregnant, the son is sent away, and the baron arranges a marriage between Augusta and Olov.They grow to care for each other, and their marriage works. For a while.
Augusta suffers from the time’s rigid roles for women. When her daughter’s real father is revealed, she is shunned and eventually expelled from village life. She survives with the help of some brave and resilient women and creates a life for her daughter, who eventually makes her way to America.
I enjoyed the way the author uses Swedish words in the text. It did not break my concentration as that method sometimes can; the word is either explained in the text or in the glossary in the back of the book.
Especially entertaining are the beliefs and sayings that guide Swedish village life. For example, when Augusta’s daughter is baptized, her godmother arrives in her old black mended church dress for the baptism.Augusta asks her, “Why has Stina taken so much trouble with her old dress?”
Stina replies, “Don’t you know that a godmother should never wear anything new when she carries her godchild to the church? To do so will make the child grow up to be proud and conceited.”
I loved reading this book. In fact, I couldn’t put it down. The story is compelling. The language is lyrical and lovely.Anyone who has a Swedish ancestry would especially enjoy this, but anyone would enjoy the story, and it may make you wonder about your own ancestors.
The author was born in the United States but has lived in an old farmhouse in Sweden most of her adult life. She said during a recent visit to Iowa that she felt like she belonged in Sweden. This book affirms that choice.