I can't stand the widely acclaimed "Sophie's World" that made a bestselling author out of Gaarder.
And yet, in my opinion, this novel has been a good r...moreI can't stand the widely acclaimed "Sophie's World" that made a bestselling author out of Gaarder.
And yet, in my opinion, this novel has been a good reading. Sikusdirektoerens datter ("The circus director's daughter" that became "The storyseller" into Italian) is an interesting attempt of making an unpleasant character enjoyable.
The way in which the protagonist gets his living, seeling ideas for short stories and novels to writer's block affected authors is a great narrative key found by Gaarder. Then the rest of the plot is a little disappointing.
Nevertheless I confess how I sometimes feel like the protagonist having so many ideas in my mind without being able to develope each of them, because another idea suddenly comes, sweeping away the previous ones. A process that is very ambitous to confess, but perfectly described by Jostein Gaarder.(less)
This is an astonishing and generally underrated novel set up in post World War II Oslo. Before the discovering of oil in the North Sea. Before Statoil...moreThis is an astonishing and generally underrated novel set up in post World War II Oslo. Before the discovering of oil in the North Sea. Before Statoil came. Before Norway became a rich and wealthy country.
The Half Brother may be considered the Norwegian answer to "The Tin Drum". Lars Saabye Christensen is masterful in narrating the growth of the two brothers Barnum and Fred (the last one meaning "peace" in Norwegian). The dislessical, pugnacious Fred is a marvellous negative character who takes his strength from hating other people and tyrannizing the disadvantaged in body and name Barnum.
In reading about the brotherhood of Fred and Barnum, shades of Grass, Richler and Bellow may be found. I'm not only thinking to the already cited "The Tin Drum" but also to "The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz" and "The Adventures of Augie March".
Moreover as for me, this book is a kind of proustian madeleine taking me back to the Majorstua district and along Kirkeveien, a part of Oslo I walked through for six months. Lars Saabye Christensen literary craftmanship deserves a wider celebrity being an exception as far as I know in the Norwegian scene. (less)
Let's imagine a brand new town which has been drawn, planned, built. This brand new town is connected to the dynamic capitol city by public transports...moreLet's imagine a brand new town which has been drawn, planned, built. This brand new town is connected to the dynamic capitol city by public transports and large roads. Here there are nice parks, big squares, pedestrian paths where people are supposed to walk, meet each other, talk. But it doesn't happens. The young inhabitants don't have any intention to socialize. Why they don't? Lack of interests? Fear? Apathy?
Is it possible that this self declared 'enlighted public architecture' has failed, becoming just a comfortable box of selfish and individual family lives?
An original point of view on the rise and fall of an idea in an 80s utopian suburb in the rich, calm and bored Norway.
PS: For those who are not familiar with the exotic Norwegian bokmaal, the long title of this novel means "An attempt to describe the impenetrable"(less)
Fascinated by the concept of "Jante" while living in Norway, I tried to read this book in original language two years ago. That was probably a mission...moreFascinated by the concept of "Jante" while living in Norway, I tried to read this book in original language two years ago. That was probably a mission too hard to accomplish for me. (less)
Each aspirant journalist was once told to write his/her articles minding "the famous 5 Ws". Who? What? When? Where? Why?
I assume how for young Seierst...moreEach aspirant journalist was once told to write his/her articles minding "the famous 5 Ws". Who? What? When? Where? Why?
I assume how for young Seierstad was the same. Then she became talented enough as a journalist for being a reporter. And as a correspondant she became talented enough to choose her own stories. Then for following the stories she chose, she went to dangerous countries such as Serbia, Iraq or Chechnya. And Afghanistan.
But. At some point Aasne Seierstad decided that those 5 Ws weren't her cup of tea anymore. Thus she wrote a novel: this one. On this purpose she lived for some months behind a heavy burqa pretending to be an Afghan woman and a member of an Afghan family. Not that easy for a western woman. And tiring. And dangerous. This can't be denied. Seierstad was brave enough to survive hiding herself in extremely difficult times and situations. If she had insisted in being a journalist, Who-What-When and Where would have been accomplished.
But she didn't. This leads us to the point and fifth W: Why?
Why Seierstad disguised herself for writing a novel formed by a collection of short stories instead of interesting reportages thanks to her new unique perspective? Wasn't her supposed to be a journalist? The problem is that, as a reader, I couldn't stand this choice of pushing actual Afghan life into the frame of short stories presenting them as honest accounts and even personal points of view of some different characters. What was true and what Seierstad invented by her own to make what she observed behind the burqa more interesting?
And how she knows how an Afghan teenager or and old woman might think? This book looks like a rather arrogant attempt to put a journalist foot into a novelist shoe. A shoe with some kind of disturbing superiority heels. And dressing a burqa for some months under the boiling sun is not enough for appreciating the effort of finding a balance in Seierstad awkward walking and writing. An effort that I wonder who was actually asking for. (less)
From the bestselling author of the - extremely overrated - "Bookseller of Kabul", comes this book about Chechnya. "The Angel of Grozny" is much better...moreFrom the bestselling author of the - extremely overrated - "Bookseller of Kabul", comes this book about Chechnya. "The Angel of Grozny" is much better than what Seierstad wrote (and thought to see) about life in Kabul, but is still affected by the same cons.
Here we have a young and undoubtedly talented journalist who is not content of being a reporter but would rather like to be a writer, a storyteller. And Åsne Seierstad does have the gift of writing some touching and beautiful descriptions here and there. The author is certainly able to use some powerful, effective and evoking imagery, but perhaps Miss Seierstad should ask herself what kind of books she aims to deliver.
Does Åsne want to write a journalistic first handed account about the time she spent in turbulent Chechnya and how she felt while reporting from there? Very well: a good half of The Angel of Grozny is about this and it works.
Does Åsne want to put herself in the shoes of Chechen people and tell us their personal sad but defiant stories on a second handed account using a hint of imagination to fill the gaps? Less appropriated but fine: the weaker chapters of this book are about this.
Does Åsne want to tell us the reason why Chechnya became such a mess at the end of the 1990s and a puppet autonomous republic later on interviewing the likes of local despot Ramzan Kadyrov, taking us in the cleansed streets of Grozny and in a Russian Court Hall? That's wonderful: the best bits of her book here are about this.
But how can you mix these three books up in a single one? And, above all, is this a good and right choice? I believe it's not, but I may be wrong.
I really enjoyed the pages in which Miss Seierstad left her need of identify herself and sympathize with the unfortunate Chechen people she wrote about to focus on what really happened around her. There are excellent pages of good honest journalism here and, in my humble opinion, they succeed in portraying the drama of Chechnya in a far better way than those chapters in which the author tried to see things with Chechen eyes.
I think that spending a few weeks in Grozny was very brave of Åsne Seierstad but was also not enough time for being able to grasp how local people feel, think, breath, live. A journalist is not an anthropologist and anthropologists themselves can get only a superficial view on the life of people they spent years with.
I'm pretty sure Åsne Seierstad is well aware of this. The thing is that stressing out the emotional connections, stimulating the self-identification of the readers with the characters they read about sells good.
And titling this book "The Angel of Grozny" is all but a coincidence. Angels sell splendidly. War does not. (less)
Intriguing book wrote by a Norwegian professor settled in Italy at the end of the 1970s.
"Romanen om Helge Hauge" ("Nube di Vernice" in the Italian edi...moreIntriguing book wrote by a Norwegian professor settled in Italy at the end of the 1970s.
"Romanen om Helge Hauge" ("Nube di Vernice" in the Italian edition, literally "Paint Cloud") is an interesting novel about thoughts, hopes and fears of a man working for all of his life painting the hulls of huge ships. I guess how some of the reflections expressed in this book may sound dated and too much socialist oriented, but in my opinion they are pretty well written. Set up between Norway and Goeteborg this book left very good memories in my mind, even if I had to give it back to the friend who borrowed me.
I searched for "Romanen om Helge Hauge", because I would like to re-read it, but still without any success. There are books like this: suddenly forgotten without any reason. Lost novels of our times.
In fact, although having won an important international literary prize in 1985 beating works of writers such as Nadine Gordimer and Kurt Vonnegut, this novel is extremely rare to find in Italy nowadays. I still wonder why.
Moreover, as far as I know, Truls Oera didn't write anything else after this book, at least no novels. It's just a pity considering how much talent he showed in this early work of him. (less)
Reading 'Beatles' was another long walk I took down Memory Lane. Bless Lars Saabye Christensen for setting another novel in that specific area of Oslo...moreReading 'Beatles' was another long walk I took down Memory Lane. Bless Lars Saabye Christensen for setting another novel in that specific area of Oslo I remember so fondly!
The English edition I owe boasts that 'Beatles' is 'The International Bestseller' and in fact this is the book that made Mr Christensen famous in Norway and abroad. Not to mention that a few months ago I spotted a hoodie eagerly leafing through this same book at a bus stop in the sleepy English town of Hereford (just don't ask me how I ended up there!). Actually this single readerspotting would be enough to confirm that 'Beatles' did indeed become a bestseller. I guess the title helped, though.
Published in 1984, when its author was only 33, this novel has been translated into 16 languages, sold hundreds of thousands of copies and - surprise surprise! - is going to become a major Norwegian movie that will have its premiere on February 2014. Apparently the chief reason why it took so long to bring 'Beatles' onto the big screen is that the prerequisite to have the movie made was to ensure that the Fab Four songs would have been in it. And it tooks ages (and money) to get that.
Putting its International Bestseller reputation aside, as I wrote above, 'Beatles' is one of those books having a very personal meaning to me. Just like it happened with 'The Half Brother' - the first novel by Christensen that I read - most of the action here is set in a two mile radius from Majorstua, one of the main intersections in West Oslo. Call me weird, but spotting toponyms such as Blindern, Bygdøy Allé, Solli Plass, Slemdalsveien, Chateau Neuf and Uranienborg Park made me actually happier than the countless references to The Beatles themselves.
With a plot taking place between 1965 and 1972 and with every chapter titled after a Beatles' song (plus a couple of McCartney and Lennon solo career singles), Christensen wrote a wistful and clever novel. The four protagonists - Kim, Gunnar, Seb and Ola - idolize the Fab Four to the point they identify themselves with them thus becoming Paul, John, George and Ringo. Even though their own dream of making a band called The Snafus is perpetually postponed due to the lack of music instruments, the four Oslo kids grow up listening in almost religious awe to each and every Beatles LP and EP. As it happens, their tastes in music do evolve over the course of the years leading them to 'discover' Bob Dylan, The Doors, The Mothers of Invention, and the blues. But the Beatles stay untouchable and every rumour implying that the Fab Four are on their way to split up is returned to sender by the boys in disbelief.
Aged only 14 at the beginning of the novel, Kim, Gunnar, Seb and Ola are 21 at its end. As you might wonder, not only their favourite records have changed but also their passions and interests switching from football, skiing and fishing to girls, alcohol, drugs and politics. That's why topics such as the Vietnam War, marijuana planting, the involvement in the ranks of the Young Socialists and the Norwegian European Communities membership referendum in 1972 take the floor.
Gradually what had begun as the story of four easy and semi-idyllic childhoods turn into a gloomy and disillusioned tale with the odd funny moment. One by one all of the four boys fail at some stage of their young lives. Some of them fall deep into an abyss of either drug addiction, alcoholic stupour or nervous breakdown but somehow manage to come up for air, at least for a while. Just like The Beatles themselves, if you like.
And it's with this bleak atmosphere that the novel ends up. I know that Christensen wrote two sequels but it looks like they have not yet been translated into English. All in all I'm not entirely sure I'd like to read the sequels. On the one hand I prefer to leave Kim, Gunnar, Seb and Ola where they are, at the young age of 21. On the other hand I remember too well the disappointment I felt when reading 'The Closed Circle' by Jonathan Coe whose excellent 'The Rotters' Club' bears many a similitude with 'Beatles' (four teenagers, the 1960s turning into the 1970s, music, politics, petting).
If these translations see the light, I hope that a better translator than Don Bartlett will be given the job. Nothing personal, Don, but it's the second time that your work doesn't convince me at all after what you did to 'Child Wonder' by Roy Jacobsen. Tacky mistakes aside (in the English edition Kim comes back to Iceland and tells his crosswords maniac dad he was in a 'cold place, six letters' as the seven lettered 'Iceland' is spelled 'Island' - six letters - in Norwegian), Mr Bartlett here seems to enjoy leaving the reader in the dark. The examples of this sadistic pleasure of the translator are countless, but I will mention a couple which give you a general idea of what I mean.
Page 503. The years is 1972. Kim gets a university loan. Don meekly translates: 'Four Ibsens and the basic grant'. Any idea of what that means? You need to Google 'Ibsen banknote 1970' to find out. Which is four 1,000 Norwegian crowns (kroner) banknotes with the face of Henrik Ibsen on them. Page 493. Kim is in Iceland visiting a former girlfriend of his. First-person narrative. All in a sudden in the middle of a dialogue, Don switches to the third-person narrative ('she told him').
And then there is the issue with Norwegian addresses and cultural references. To translate them or not to translate them? - Mr Bartlett might have pondered. The problem is that he didn't make his mind up. So it happens that the magazine 'Nå' ('Now') and the newspaper 'Aftenposten' ('The Evening Post') keep their Norwegian names while the leftist newspaper 'Klassekampen' becomes 'Class Conflict' and the public television NRK becomes the 'Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation'. I wonder why. Another problem comes up with the translation of nouns. Now Norwegian (both Bokmål and Nynorsk) adds up suffixes so that, say, 'Storting' (the National Parliament) becomes 'det Stortinget'. But the name of the Parliament is Storting and not Storting-et. Now, go and tell this to Don Bartlett for whom it's 'the Stortinget'.
I am sorry, I am really sorry to spoil my review by taking the piss out of the translator but I believe that 'Beatles' would have deserved a better treatment. (less)
What I like and dislike at the same time in modern Norwegian literature is the straight and essential style used by young novelists such as Erlend Loe...moreWhat I like and dislike at the same time in modern Norwegian literature is the straight and essential style used by young novelists such as Erlend Loe and Frode Grytten. It's a kind of writing that is a thousand miles away from most of the Italian literature I like.
Where Italian authors try to be impressive at any rate using a rich style and many cultural influences even in referring to extreme situations, Norwegian novelists don't seem to care. I mean, they simply put themselves in the shoes of a character without any need to investigate that much on everything else.
Short sentences. Self-humour. Undramatic introspection. Music and television as a source of inspiration for absurd reflections. And a kind of perpetual Peter Pan syndrome lived by the main characters. These are the ingredients of the "Modern Norwegian Literature Recipe". Johan Harstad doesn't make any exception. Mattias, the protagonist and narrator of "Buzz Aldrin" could easily be the elder brother of Loe's "Naiv Super". The two characters share an enchanted and melancholic way of looking around, keep on reminiscing their childhood and live in their own world made of subtle reflections in unexpected moments and speechless situations. They are both romantic and anacronistic fellows.
Yet, whereas Loe insists too much in using a childish way of behaving for his Naiv Super guy, Harstad aims to give to his fragile Mattias a deeper personality. Besides, the young Stavanger-born author has the brilliant idea of setting his novel in an out-of-time place like the Faer Oer islands. An interesting choice, indeed that is particularly fascinating for a non Scandinavian audience who has a vague picture of this tiny archipelagus with no trees at all and punctuated by sheeps. There Mattias loses his way and then tries to put himself together.
As for the modern Norwegian literature, what I miss more is a feminine point of view on the same topics of isolation and personal reconstruction. Harstad does something, but not enough on this side, writing on one of the characters of Buzz Aldrin. And yet, I am sure he will surprise me pretty soon with something better. (less)
What are Six Norwegian Men doing on a raft in the middle of the Pacific Ocean?
This question may sound as the beginning of a funny joke or as a riddle,...moreWhat are Six Norwegian Men doing on a raft in the middle of the Pacific Ocean?
This question may sound as the beginning of a funny joke or as a riddle, but in fact is the story behind the Kon-Tiki travel. Thor Heyerdahl was certainly a dreamer, but not a stupid. He surrounded himself of practical and tough men for his "suicidal expedition" with the aim of proving his own theory about colonization of a bunch of the most isolated islands of this world.
The book turned out to be less scientific and didactical than I thought and is the kind of story I would have loved to have for bedtime when I was a child. "Kon-Tiki: Across the Pacific by Raft" looks like a very relaxed and even ironic account of 96 days spent navigating all the way through ocean with a balsa wood made raft. The six men enjoy quietness and isolation, symphatizing with fish and living the ocean like a friendly place.
I would like to underline an important aspect: when they did it. It was 1947. No gps for orientation. No internet for communication. No possibilities of being rescued by helicopters. No technology at all, except for a primitive radio system. When the Kon-Tiki men did this trip their knowledge of the same Pacific Ocean was really fragmentary. Yet they were excited and very much confident about that "crazy flight".
I appreciated their approach to the whole expedition and enjoyed the narration without focusing on literary style that much. Heyerdahl was an explorer and not a novelist and he never tried to pretend to be a writer. He simply tells us what those Six Norwegian Men were doing on a raft in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. And that story is interesting enough.(less)