Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘Scandinavian Literature’ Category

I discovered Ida Jessen’sA Change of Time‘ sometime back and decided to read it yesterday. I read it for #ReadIndies hosted by Kaggsy from Kaggsy’s Bookish Ramblings and Lizzy from Lizzy’s Literary Life. The English translation of this book is published by Archipelago Books, one of my favourite indie publishers. I’ll tell you why, soon 😊

Ida Jessen’s book is in the format of a diary. The person who writes this diary is a woman who has just lost her husband. As we read her diary entries, we discover how our narrator navigates life, grief and loneliness after this heartbreaking personal loss. In a soft, gentle voice, the narrator shares her thoughts on life, love – both requited and unrequited, loss, grief, loneliness, friendship, the passing of seasons, the beauty of nature, the beautiful relationship between teachers and students, the charming behaviour of people in a small village – how everyone knows everyone, how everyone is curious about other people’s lives and there is no privacy, how people are kind and help each other during difficult times, the way only small-town and village people do. Ida Jessen’s prose is beautiful, gentle and meditative, and is a pleasure to read. There is even a delicate love story woven into the book, which we might miss, if we blink. I nearly did.

I loved ‘A Change of Time‘. Ida Jessen’s book shows why Danish literature is awesome and continues to rock. It is one of my favourite reads of the year. I want to explore more of Ida Jessen’s work.

Now, a little bit about Archipelago books, as promised. Archipelago books have a very unique design – they are in the shape of a square, rather than a rectangle, which is how a typical book is. I hope you can see this square shape in the picture. I’ve seen table-top books which are shaped like squares, but have never seen regular books, which are filled with text, in this design. This square design is one of the reasons I love Archipelago books  This design poses interesting creative challenges to booklovers and book collectors in how to shelve their books, because bookshelves are not designed for square books. I love the way Archipelago books have defied convention and designed their books in this unconventional square shape.

I’ll leave you with some of my favourite passages from Ida Jessen’s book.

“I was not a frequent churchgoer in those years. I will not say I am a stranger to the church, for I am familiar with it and with what goes on there, as one might be familiar with an aging aunt whom one has not visited in a very long time, and when eventually one does, one recognizes straight away the smells of her kitchen and the way in which the old armchair so snugly accommodates the frame as soon as one obliges the invitation to take a seat: everything is exactly as it was when one was a child.”

“I feel like a person standing in a landscape so empty and open that it matters not a bit in which direction I choose to There would be no difference : north, south, east, or west, would be the same wherever I went.”

“Bitterness is a very soft and comfortable armchair from which it is difficult indeed to extract oneself once one has decided to settle in it.”

“With age comes a certain naivety. Perhaps we no longer can bear the things we know and must smooth them away, leveling ourselves in the process. The differences we even out are evened out by human hand. The very old say so very little, not because they are unable, but because they cannot be bothered.”

“Widows are a community. I have been aware of it ever since I was a child. It can be seen in the way they seek each other’s company, in the pews for instance, where often they will sit in pairs. They do not speak much, for they have no need, and after the service they go their separate ways. In my childhood home, the widows sat together at meals and at work in the workroom. It is a matter of having lived with one person for most of one’s adult life, and to have lost that person. To have been set free. Freedom is not always a good thing. There is a freedom in which one is unseen. Such is the life of the widow. When the days of mourning are gone, and grief has become tire some to one’s surroundings, one ceases to be an interesting person and must accept the fact. Widows possess an expe rience that is not understood by others. They must live with becoming grey in the eyes of the world, and have lost their right of protest, for they are outside the common community. As outcasts they stick together. But this not the only reason. There is a warmth there, and understanding. They are acquainted with things. We have our dead. Our hope is that we too will be someone’s.”

Have you read ‘A Change of Time‘? What do you think about it?

Advertisement

Read Full Post »

I discovered Selja Ahava’sThings that Fall from the Sky‘ through a friend. This is my first ever Finnish book, I think. So, Yay! 😊 I read this for #ReadIndies hosted by Kaggsy from ‘Kaggsy’s Bookish Ramblings’ and Lizzy from ‘Lizzy’s Literary Life’. The English translation of this book is published by Oneworld, which is an indie publisher based out of London.

Saara is a young girl who lives with her dad and her aunt. We discover that her mom died sometime back. The book starts with Saara narrating the story. She describes her life at present and then goes back in time and describes life when her mom was around. As the story goes back and forth we try to piece together what happened. At some point in the story, a new narrator comes in and continues the story and we see things from a different perspective. There are four parts in the story, and in the final part, it comes full circle, as Saara comes back and tells us what happened in the end.

Things that Fall from the Sky‘ is a beautiful story about family, love, loss, grief and its aftermath, and finding love again. It is also accidental happenings in life, both good and bad, and whether they have any meaning. I loved the whole book, but I loved most, the first part, which stretches to nearly half of the book. The child Saara’s voice is so beautifully rendered by Selja Ahava in that first part. It is unique, beautiful, authentic, charming. Saara tells us the story in the way only a child can – directly, with childlike innocence. She grieves in the way only a child does, and it breaks our hearts. Saara’s mom has a starring role in this part, and she was one of my favourite characters in the book. Talking about characters, I loved all the characters in the book, Saara and her mom and dad, and her Auntie Annu, and Krista who comes later in the story. I even loved Saara’s favourite sheep Bruno. Saara’s first description of Bruno always makes me smile 😊

“Bruno is tame because when he was little, I fed him with a baby bottle. Now he thinks I’m his mum, and when I walk past, he always comes up to the fence and bleats.”

Selja Ahava’s prose is spare and beautiful and we can feel the shift in voice as the narrator changes, which is beautifully done. There is even a difference between the voice of the young Saara at the beginning of the book and voice of the little bit older Saara at the end. That subtle change in voice is so beautifully rendered. It is pitch perfect.

I loved ‘Things that Fall from the Sky‘. It is beautiful, charming, moving, heartbreaking, life-affirming. I’m so happy I read my first Finnish book. I can’t wait to read more books by Selja Ahava.

I’ll leave you with some of my favourite passages from the book.

“I’ve considered time a great deal. I have grey cells in my brain. I use them to think about how time marches forward and heals. Grown-ups say time heals and that means that when time passes, what’s happened changes into a memory and you remember it less and less clearly. When you can hardly remember it at all, you’ve been healed…Dad says time heals is a load of shit. According to Dad, the only people who say that don’t understand anything about anything. They’ve never been through anything. And my grey brain cells think Dad may be right because, at least so far, nothing’s healed, even though the summer holidays have already started. And so I sit on the back seat and say ‘nothing’ and think about the healing power of time. To be on the safe side, I decide to remember Mum every day, before time has the chance to do too much healing.”

“In spring, the manor house groaned and creaked. The warmth brought the timbers to life and got the house’s blood circulating. It sounded as if someone were walking about all the time. This didn’t scare Auntie Annu. ‘Extra Great Manor is just stretching its limbs,’ she’d say. The groaning and creaking went on till warmth spread throughout the structure. Then the house settled down and the sound of steps upstairs went away…When a house is young, you have to look after it as if it were a child. It needs adjusting, patching up, care and maintenance. But when a house is, say, two hundred years old, it can look after itself. Everything that’s inclined to rot has already rotted. Everything that’s inclined to sink and split has already sunk and split. You just have to live in it nicely, which means living as people have lived there before.”

“Spring sets off tapping and popping on the roof; sometimes the noises go on for several nights before anything happens. The roof prepares for an attack, like an army: it moves and drips quietly. Then, finally, comes the night when the mass of ice that has formed on the roof works itself loose: it begins to move, a single sheet hundreds of kilos in weight, to slide, rumbling, down the tin roof. The chunks of ice fall past the windows on to the ground. The din is so great that, for a moment, I think the world is coming to an end. The loosening of the ice is followed by silence. The house is full of silence; the walls rise from wintry heaviness; the shed door opens again.”

“The ancient Greeks used to lower the gods on to the stage when the plot of a play got into a knot and the characters weren’t able to work it out themselves. Gods in white clothing in their little box, descending creakily to the middle of the stage with the help of a rope. There they could declare judgement. It wasn’t thought to be quite as skilful an ending as one where the characters solved their problems themselves, but it was better than nothing.”

“If the end of the world doesn’t work out, there’s always an alternative: Paradise. Auntie Annu said she heard Paradise will only come if all the people in the world are without sin for one moment. One moment would be enough, but it would have to be the same moment for everyone. A world without sin for one small, shared moment, and Paradise will pop out. A trumpet will sound, angels will swoosh and the world will end. I’m not sure about Paradise. I don’t trust angels… Sometimes, in the manor house, I used to lie in my metal bed and imagine ways of getting Paradise started. If everyone could be made to sleep at the same time, it might work, because you can’t sin when you’re asleep, even if you’re having a nightmare…Maybe not everyone wants Paradise. Maybe most people don’t want any kind of ending because they’re afraid of death. And that’s why Paradise doesn’t come, and things just happen. And perhaps, after all, that’s why the world goes on: because things happen. Overlapping, at the wrong time, at different times, in the wrong places. If everything were in order, as the angels command, if the angels said ‘don’t look’, and everyone obeyed, we would end up in Paradise with one blast of the trumpet. But the world goes on and life happens, because there’s always a person who peeks all the same. Someone forgets to watch the news, someone starts a quarrel when they shouldn’t, someone else just doesn’t feel like being good, and someone happens to be standing at the edge of the garden when a lump of ice falls. And that’s why we’ll never reach Paradise.”

Have you read ‘Things that Fall from the Sky‘? What do you think about it?

Read Full Post »

I read the third and final part of Tove Ditlevsen’s memoir, ‘Dependency‘, today. There are going to be spoilers in the review, and so please be forewarned.

Dependency‘ starts with a surprise – Tove is married! It came as such a surprise to me, as I didn’t see that coming! Starting from there, Tove goes on to describe her married life, her writing experiences, how she falls in love again with another person and breaks up with her husband, how her quest for romantic happiness and marital bliss continues for the rest of her life with unpredictable results, the new friends she makes and how they shape her life – we learn about these and other things in the first part of the book.

There are some interesting things that the book describes which were probably unusual for that time. For example, at one point, Tove becomes a successful writer and her name comes in the papers and she makes lots of money, but her husband is still a student at university. This leads to some complicated situations at home. When Tove describes the troubles in her marriage to her friend, and says that she fears that her husband might leave her, her friend says this – “He is really proud of you; it’s obvious when he talks about you. You just have to understand that it’s so easy for him to feel inferior. You’re famous, you earn money, you love your work. Ebbe’s just a poor student who’s being more or less supported by his wife. He’s studying for a degree he doesn’t fit, and he has to get drunk to cope with life.” There is also a part in which Tove describes how she is romantically attracted to one of her girlfriends. I don’t know whether that led to something more, as Tove is quiet about that.

Tove also describes the time she has an unplanned pregnancy and has to get an illegal abortion, and how when it happens again, it leads to some unintended consequences, which in turn leads to a dark period in her life. In the second part of the book, Tove describes how she got addicted to painkillers, and how this addiction took over her life, and affected her relationships with her family and friends and everyone around her, and how she came out of that harrowing period in her life.

Dependency‘ is very different from the first two parts of the trilogy. Tove’s searing honesty as she describes her life and her struggles with addiction makes for a fascinating and difficult read. The second part of the book, which describes her descent into addiction, is especially hard to read. Tove’s bravery and courage as she lays bare her life is amazing and inspiring. This trilogy was first published in the period 1967-71, and I’m sure it must have created waves when it first came out, shocking and surprising readers with its frankness and honesty. I don’t think there was any memoir of that time which came close to this. I don’t think even Tove’s great French contemporary, Marguerite Duras, wrote a frank memoir like this. The closest I can think of is Erica Jong’sFear of Flying‘, but even that is classified as fiction. As a memoir, Tove’s trilogy is unparalleled and unique, and it was far ahead of its time. The first two volumes of this memoir were translated and published in English in 1985. The publishers and the translator refused to touch the third volume and for many years it was not available in English. It was finally translated 34 years later. After reading it now, I realize why. The third volume is very different from the first two, because it is more frank, more honest, and probably controversial for its time, and it shows the grownup Tove as a complex, beautiful, imperfect, flawed human being. How she mustered up the bravery and courage to put this on paper, I’ll never know. It gives me goosebumps, just thinking about it.

I loved ‘Dependency‘, though it was a challenging read. I loved the whole trilogy. It is a beautiful, insightful and frank depiction of the times as seen through the eyes of one person, the fascinating Tove Ditlevsen.

I’ll leave you with a couple of my favourite passages from the book.

“And I realize more and more that the only thing I’m good for, the only thing that truly captivates me, is forming sentences and word combinations, or writing simple, four-line poetry. And in order to do this I have to be able to observe people in a certain way, almost as if I needed to store them in a file somewhere for later use. And to be able to do this I have to be able to read in a certain way too, so I can absorb through all my pores everything I need, if not for now, then for later use. That’s why I can’t interact with too many people; and I can’t go out too much and drink alcohol, because then I can’t work the next day. And since I’m always forming sentences in my head, I’m often distant and distracted when Ebbe starts talking to me, and that makes him feel dejected.”

“I’ve never been out in the country before, and I’m amazed at the silence, which is like nothing I have ever experienced. I feel something resembling happiness, and I wonder if this is what is meant by enjoying life. In the evening I go for a walk alone while Ester watches Helle. The aromas from the fields and pine forest are stronger than on the day we arrived. The lighted windows in the farmhouse shine like yellow squares in the darkness, and I wonder what the people there do to pass the time. The man probably sits listening to the radio; and the wife probably darns socks which she pulls up out of a woven basket. Soon they’ll yawn and stretch and look out at the weather and say a few words about the work awaiting them in the morning. Then they’ll tiptoe to bed so as not to wake the children. The yellow squares will go dark. Eyes will shut all over the world. The cities go to sleep, and the houses, and the fields.”

Have you read ‘Dependency‘? What do you think about it?

Read Full Post »

Today, I finished reading the second part of Tove Ditlevsen’s memoirs, ‘Youth‘. I read it in one breath.

In ‘Youth‘, Tove describes what happens after she goes to work, the different kinds of jobs she has, how her employers and colleagues are, the young men who are attracted towards her, how she can’t wait to turn eighteen and move out of her house and be independent – how she wants a room of her own as Virginia Woolf describes it, and which Tove describes eloquently thus –

“But I want so badly to have a place where I can practice writing real poems. I’d like to have a room with four walls and a closed door. A room with a bed, a table and a chair, with a typewriter, or a pad of paper and a pencil, nothing more. Well, yes – a door I could lock. All of this I can’t have until I’m eighteen and can move away from home.”

The book also describes how her parents resist Tove’s plans to become independent, how Tove becomes friends with literary-inclined older people with whom she has delightful bookish conversations, and her attempts at writing poems and getting them published. The book also touches upon the looming spectre of Nazism in Europe.

When Tove’s first poem gets published in a small literary magazine, she is thrilled. But her reaction to it was also complex and very interesting. It was one of my favourite passages from the book, and it goes like this –

“The next day two copies of Wild Wheat arrive in the mail and my poem is in both of them. I read it many times and get an apprehensive feeling in my stomach. It looks completely different in print than typewritten or in longhand. I can’t correct it anymore and it’s no longer mine alone. It’s in many hundreds or thousands of copies of the journal, and strange people will read it and may think that it’s good. It’s spread out over the whole country, and people I meet on the street may have read it. They may be walking about with a copy of the journal in their inside pocket or purse. If I ride in the streetcar, there may be a man sitting across from me reading it. It’s completely overwhelming and there’s not a person I can share this wonderful experience with.”

I loved ‘Youth‘. It is fascinating to watch how Tove navigates the complicated, messy adult world, and listening to her experiences through her own unique voice. I can’t wait to read the third part now, and find out what Tove’s upto next.

I’ll leave you with some of my favourite passages from the book.

“Being young is itself temporary, fragile, and ephemeral. You have to get through it – it has no other meaning.”

“Death is not a gentle falling asleep as I once believed. It’s brutal, hideous, and foul smelling. I wrap my arms around myself and rejoice in my youth and my health. Otherwise my youth is nothing more than a deficiency and a hindrance that I can’t get rid of fast enough.”

“I also like to look at people who in one way or another give expression to their feelings. I like to look at mothers caressing their children, and I willingly go a little out of my way in order to follow a young couple who are walking hand in hand and are openly in love. It gives me a wistful feeling of happiness and an indefinable hope for the future.”

“‘If you don’t stop being so strange,’ my mother says, ‘you’ll never get married.’ ‘I don’t want to anyway,’ I say, even though I’m sitting there considering that desperate alternative. I think about my childhood ghost : the stable skilled worker. I don’t have anything against a skilled worker; it’s the word ‘stable’ that blocks out all bright future dreams. It’s as gray as a rainy sky when no bright ray of sun trickles through.”

Have you read Tove Ditlevsen’sYouth‘? What do you think about it?

Read Full Post »

I was inspired to read Tove Ditlevsen’s memoirs by one of my friends, who is an artist and a writer, and who is the biggest admirer of Tove Ditlevsen that I know. My friend has been gushing about Tove Ditlevsen for a long time, much before last year, when everyone started reading Ditlevsen after the recent English translation of her memoirs were published.

I read the first part of Tove Ditlevsen’s memoirs, ‘Childhood‘, today. Ditlevsen was born in 1918, when the First World War had just ended, and so it was a very different world then. ‘Childhood‘ describes the first decade and a half of Ditlevsen’s life. It brings that era beautifully alive, and interestingly it doesn’t feel like Ditlevsen is talking about a period which is nearly a century back, but it feels fresh like today. One of my favourite parts of the book is the one which describes how Tove fell in love with books, especially poetry, and how she started writing poetry of her own. I loved that part. Another thing that I loved about the book was when Tove describes how she hides her real thoughts and feelings from people around her, and pretends to be dumb and stupid, because she feels like an outsider as her thoughts are very different and unconventional compared to those around her. Those of us who are or have been outsiders will be able to understand exactly how Tove must have felt and will be able to identify with her. There are interesting characters who come through the book, including Tove and her brother and her parents and her teachers, her neighbours and her friends. Tove’s mother looks like a fascinating, complex person. Some of my favourite characters in the book were the minor ones who make a brief appearance, like the librarian who helps Tove borrow books for grown-ups, and Tove’s neighbour Ketty, who is her mother’s best friend, and who has an unconventional job, and who is kind and affectionate towards Tove. Tove’s friend Ruth is also a very fascinating character and made me think of Astrid Lindgren’s Pippi Longstocking. Tove’s grandmother is also a very interesting character. The book ends with Tove graduating out of middle school and getting ready to go to work and looking at the grownups’ strange world with apprehension.

I loved ‘Childhood‘. It is slim at around a hundred pages, but there is so much packed in those pages, including a commentary on the social and political situation of the times seen through a young girl’s eyes. Tove’s narrative voice is beautiful and authentic and unique. The writing is beautiful and there were many beautiful sentences and passages in the book. I’m sharing one of my favourites below.

“In the meantime, there exist certain facts. They are stiff and immovable, like the lampposts in the street, but at least they change in the evening when the lamplighter has touched them with his magic wand. Then they light up like big soft sunflowers in the narrow borderland between night and day, when all the people move so quietly and slowly, as if they were walking on the bottom of the green ocean. Facts never light up and they can’t soften hearts like Ditte menneskebarn, which is one of the first books that I read. ‘It’s a social novel,’ says my father pedantically, and that probably is a fact, but it doesn’t tell me anything, and I have no use for it. ‘Nonsense,’ says my mother, who doesn’t care for facts, either, but can more easily ignore them than I can. Whenever my father, on rare occasions, gets really mad at her, he says she’s full of lies, but I know that’s not so. I know every person has their own truth just as every child has their own childhood. My mother’s truth is completely different from my father’s truth, but it’s just as obvious as the fact that he has brown eyes while hers are blue. Fortunately, things are set up so that you can keep quiet about the truths in your heart; but the cruel, gray facts are written in the school records and in the history of the world and in the law and in the church books. No one can change them and no one dares to try, either – not even the Lord, whose image I can’t separate from Prime Minister Stauning’s, even though my father says that I shouldn’t believe in the Lord since the capitalists have always used Him against the poor.”

Have you read ‘Childhood‘? What do you think about it?

Read Full Post »

I discovered ‘Doppler‘ by Erlend Loe sometime back. I love Norwegian and Scandinavian literature but haven’t read one recently, and so was excited to read this.

The story is narrated by Doppler. He lives in the forest bordering the city at the start of the story. He used to be a regular guy – worked hard, had a good job, was a responsible family man, with a kind wife and two kids. Then one day his father died. And then he goes cycling through the forest and trips on some tree roots and falls. He is not able to get up or call for help and while he is down something happens. Something in his mind opens up and lets in a new kind of light and suddenly he starts questioning everything about his life. Before long he moves into the forest and starts living there with a baby elk for company and the beautiful things that happen after that form the rest of the story.

I loved ‘Doppler‘. Doppler’s narrative voice is wonderful and his sense of humour is charming and I couldn’t stop laughing at many of his observations. The book asks many of the big questions on what is important in life without providing any simplistic answers. It is not all wonderful and pleasant for Doppler in the forest and the book doesn’t shy away from depicting that. One of the things I loved about the book was the way the forging of new friendships is described. The way Doppler and the baby elk, whom he calls Bongo, become friends is itself complex, because it starts with a heartbreaking event, but when they start hanging out together, and Doppler starts treating Bongo like a human child, it makes us smile with pleasure. Before long Doppler’s son starts camping in the forest with him and he becomes friends with Bongo, and Bongo’s friend circle starts going up. There are three other fascinating characters in the story, with whom Doppler becomes friends, but I don’t want to write about them, because it is more pleasurable to discover about them yourself.

I enjoyed reading ‘Doppler‘. It was such a pleasurable read and I was smiling most of the time when I was reading it. I can’t wait to read more books by Erlend Loe.

I’ll leave you with some of my favourite passages from the book.

“…as a cyclist you’re forced to be an outlaw. You’re forced to live on the wild side of society and at odds with established traffic conventions which are increasingly focussed on motorised traffic, even for healthy people. Cyclists are an oppressed breed, we are a silent minority, our hunting grounds are diminishing all the time and we’re being forced into patterns of behaviour which aren’t natural to us, we can’t speak our own language, we’re being forced underground. But be warned because this injustice is so obvious, and it cannot surprise anyone that anger and aggression are accumulating in cyclists and that one fine day, when non-cyclists have become so fat that they can hardly manoeuvre themselves in and out of their cars, we will strike back with all our might and main.”

“On the kitchen worktop there is the biggest Toblerone that money can buy. It weighs four and a half kilos; it’s over a metre long and as wide as my thigh. I’ve often seen bars like that myself. At Kastrup and other airports I used to fly on business before moving into the forest. But I’ve only ever bought the small ones. I’ve never dared to go the whole hog and buy the big one. It was being nice that held me back, I recollect. Always being nice. Small Toblerone bars are nice. They demonstrate a father’s consideration for his family. He remembered them. He thought of them. But big Toblerone bars are too big to be nice. They’re extreme and say dark things about the buyer. He’s got an eating problem. He’s lonely. He’s weird. He’s capable of anything.”

“It’s embedded in our DNA that we constantly have to be doing things. Finding things to do. As long as you’re active that’s fine, in a way, however mindless the activity. We want to avoid boredom at all costs, but I’ve started to notice that I like being bored. Boredom is underrated. I tell Gregus that my plan is to bore myself to happiness.”

“It’s become far more difficult to do things, and it’s become impossible to do nothing. Doing nothing is a very demanding job when other people are constantly on your back.”

“One problem with people is that as soon as they fill a space it’s them you see and not the space. Large, desolate landscapes stop being large, desolate landscapes once they have people in them. They define what the eye sees. And the human eye is almost always directed at other humans. In this way an illusion is created that humans are more important than those things on earth which are not human. It’s a sick illusion. Perhaps elk are the most important creatures when it comes down to it, I say to Bongo. Perhaps you’re the ones who know best but you’re extremely patient. I doubt that, of course, but who knows? It’s definitely not humans anyway. I refuse to believe that.”

Have you read ‘Doppler‘? What do you think about it?

Read Full Post »

I finally dipped into the first volume of Karl Ove Knausgaard’s epic ‘My Struggle‘. The English translation of the first volume is called ‘A Death in the Family‘. I have been reading it for the past twelve days and finally finished reading it yesterday.

My Struggle‘ is probably classified as auto-fiction. So the story and the events described in it are probably all inspired by what actually happened. So the narrator in the book is Karl Ove Knausgaard himself, his wife is called Linda and the characters appearing in the book are all probably real people. I didn’t do my research to find out whether there are any imaginary characters in the book. So why call it fiction? Why not call it a memoir or an autobiography? The only reason I can think of is that the author wanted to embellish some events with his own imagination, and also wanted to avoid being sued, if a real person making an appearance in the book took offence. Calling a book ‘fiction’ and putting a disclaimer on the first page takes care of all that.

The book starts with a long meditation on death, which is quite insightful and beautiful. Then the story starts when Karl Ove was a boy and then it moves back and forth and flits through multiple time periods. In many places, Knausgaard talks about one thing, and then goes back into the past to describe a related thing, and before we can blink, we have entered a rabbit hole, and we are immersed in the past, and when we come up for a breath of fresh air, we discover that thirty pages have gone and we are still in the past, and we wonder what happened to the present event he was describing, and before we know the story flits back seamlessly into the present. It is quite fascinating. I loved these digressions. However, it is not everyone’s cup of tea.

The book alternates between long contemplative passages and pages, and moving the story forward with events and dialogue. The concentration of the contemplative passages is more in the first half of the book, and the second part has more dialogue and events. I liked both aspects of the book, but I liked the contemplative parts more. I read many of those contemplative passages and passages many times, and at times I didn’t want to move forward and kept reading those pages again and again. They were beautiful and insightful and thought-provoking and delightful to read. Knausgaard talks about every kind of topic under the sun – art, books, music, football and an infinite variety of other things – and there is something in these pages for every kind of reader.

What about the story itself? The story is interesting and the narrator talks about every kind of close relationship we have with our family members. The narrator’s views and insights are honest and frank and unflinching and sometimes we might even find them uncomfortable. But they are always deep and thought-provoking. The characters are complex and well-developed and real. I loved the characters of his mother, grandmother, and the brother Yngve, but there are lots of characters, they are all fascinating.

Knausgaard’s book was highly acclaimed when it first came out. Zadie Smith said, “It’s completely blown my mind.” Another reviewer said that it “has strong claim to be the great literary event of the twenty-first century.” But there are other fascinating, insightful thoughts too. For example, you can find Lisa’s (from ‘ANZ Litlovers’) review here and Jacqui’s review here. You can also find Melissa’s (from The Book Binder’s Daughter) thoughts on auto-fiction here, which compares Knausgaard’s book with others.

From my perspective, I loved the first part of ‘My Struggle’. I loved reading those contemplative passages many times. Some readers feel that the second part is even better than the first part. I can’t wait to get into it.

I’ll leave you with one of my favourite passages from the book.

“When I was at home on my own every room had its own character, and though not directly hostile to me they were not exactly welcoming, either. It was more as if they did not want to subordinate themselves to me, but wanted to exist in their own right, with their own individual walls, floors, ceilings, skirting boards, yawning windows. I was aware of a deadness about the rooms – that was what made me uncomfortable – by which I mean not dead in the sense of life having ceased, but rather life being absent, the way that life is absent from a rock, a glass of water, a book. The presence of our cat, Mefisto, was not strong enough to dispel this, I just saw the cat in the yawning room; however, were a person to come in, even if it were only a small baby, the yawning room was gone. My father filled the rooms with disquiet, my mother filled them with gentleness, patience, melancholy, and on occasion, if she came home from work and was tired, also with a faint yet noticeable undercurrent of irritability. Per, who never ventured further than the front hall, filled it with happiness, expectation and submission. Jan Vidar, who was so far the only person outside my family to have been in my room, filled it with obstinacy, ambition and friendliness. It was interesting when several people were present because there wasn’t any space for the sway of more than one, at top two wills in a room, and it was not always the strongest that was the most obvious.”

Have you read the first part of Knausgaard’sMy Struggle‘? What do you think about it?

Read Full Post »

Being in the middle of reading Knausgaard, I thought it would be nice if I could take out all the Scandinavian books I have and put them together. I discovered that I have just 12 books. Yes, a round dozen only. (Ignoring the Knausgaard books, of course – I have 10 volumes of Knausgaard). I have read some of them, and hope to read the others in the future. I loved Per Petterson’sOut Stealing Horses‘. I also liked his ‘To Siberia‘. I loved the first part of Sigrid Undset’sKristin Lavransdatter‘. Haven’t read the next two parts yet. I liked ‘The Laughing Policemen‘, the series which probably launched the whole Scandinavian crime fiction scene today. I also liked ‘The Dark Blue Winter Overcoat’, which is a beautiful collection of Scandinavian short stories.

I noticed an interesting thing in the collection I have. I always thought that I must be having more Swedish books when compared to other Scandinavian books, because I thought that Sweden was the regional powerhouse. But when I look at this collection, the three Swedish books I have are all crime novels. There are four Danish books (three by Peter Høeg – I want to read ‘Miss Smilla’s Feeling for Snow‘ soon), three Norwegian books, one Icelandic book (‘Butterflies in November‘ – such a beautiful title!) and one Scandinavian short story collection covering all Scandinavian languages. If I add the ten Knausgaard volumes I have, Norwegian wins by a clear margin! Very surprising! Who knew!

Do you like Scandinavian literature? Which are your favourite Scandinavian books? Which Scandinavian language in translation have you read the most?

Read Full Post »