1. Agnes describes her early life to Toti the Pastor. What do you think had the greatest influence over her character? Mistakes of her mother? Her foster parents? Her hard life as a servant? Guilt from the deaths she has seen?
  2. Both Toti and Margret heard Agnes’ story but each responded differently. Do you think the author made their interactions seem genuine?
  3. The sisters, Steina and Laurga, worked side by side with Agnes. Do the attitudes of the girls remind us of our attitudes towards prisoners, the homeless, asylum seekers or the non-believer?
  4. Natan is a shadowy figure until Agnes paints a picture of his desires for wealth, seclusion, abandonment and harassment including sexual abuse. Do you see the girls, Sigga and Agnes, as slaves or prisoners of their own desires for grandeur and their need for love?
  5. The farm life in Iceland was incredibly harsh. What part of the servant’s life made you most conscious of your own privilege?
  6. Iceland was a Christian country in 1828. The laws required criminals to receive spiritual counsel in order to prepare them for meeting their Lord.  Do you envisage Toti could develop a pastor’s heart?  Was the law able to be mercifully carried out?
  7. Are there any points in the story that concerned you?
  8. Did the ending give a clear picture of why these two ‘criminals’ should not be buried in consecrated ground?
  9. The landscape and the poverty seemed to be very much in the forefront of the story. What effect did they have on Agnes’ position?
  10. Was Agnes deserving of death?

Burial Rites by Hannah Kent


In northern Iceland, 1829, Agnes Magnusdottir is condemned to death for her part in the brutal murder of two men.Agnes is sent to wait on the farm of District Officer Jon Jonsson and his family, who are horrified and avoid Agnes. Only Toti, the young assistant reverend appointed as Agnes’s spiritual guardian, is compelled to try to understand her. As the summer months fall away to winter, Agnes’s story begins to emerge. And as the days to her execution draw closer, the question burns: did she or didn’t she? Based on a true story, Burial Rites is a deeply moving novel about freedom and the ways we will risk everything for love. In beautiful, cut-glass prose, Hannah Kent portrays Iceland’s formidable landscape, and asks: how can one woman endure when her life depends upon the stories told by others? Google books