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‘Surfaces matter to a textile artist’: Vigdis Hjorth’s A House in Norway

Restricted to life within the same four walls at the moment? If lockdown is continuing where you are, we would highly recommend reading the award-winning A House in Norway by Vigdis Hjorth. Translated by Charlotte Barslund and selected for an English PEN Award as part of the PEN Translates! programme, this novel is a penetrating study of power relations in contemporary Nordic society.

Hesteblomster, Frida Hansen, 1900, detail. Photo: Jensen, Stina Aadland / Stiftelsen Kulturkvartalet

The relationship between a property owner and their tenant is an uneasy one: ‘the power balance was unequal, that is if you could talk about power in such cases, and you probably could’. Petty squabbles over whose responsibility it is to clear a shared driveway of snow, wasteful electricity use, late-night shower routines and prejudices based on superficial appearances – the tenant’s bed-linen is preemptively dismissed by her landlady as ‘undoubtedly synthetic’ – accrue and accumulate, heading towards inevitable combustion.

If you would like to read for yourself how this particular tapestry of tangled lives turns out, copies can be ordered here or you can read the opening pages here. It will also be perfect pre-reading for the 20th Internationales Literaturfestival Berlin, scheduled for September this year (pandemic permitting), where Vigdis Hjorth has been invited to appear as a guest.

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Lobster-led design (and Wes Anderson films)

This week, we have another cover art special for you!

In 2019, we published Erik Fosnes Hansen’s Lobster Life, translated from the Norwegian Et hummerliv by Janet Garton. With a title like that, we knew that we needed a cover that would honour the novel’s quirkiness and its blend of comedy and tragedy, as captured in this review:

What a totally brilliant book! Best comedy I have read in ages. It reminded me of The Natives of Hemsö, such a favourite book. Best medicine for the coronavirus blues; I’m telling everybody to read it. It made me laugh and laugh – and then it made me cry.  

Sue Prideaux, author of I am Dynamite! A Life of Friedrich Nietzsche, Winner of the Hawthornden Prize 2019.

For a taste of Lobster Life, you can read an extract here, which relates what happens when our young narrator agrees to take a group of hotel guests fishing.

Today we would like to share a few of the runner-up covers with you:

Continue reading Lobster-led design (and Wes Anderson films)

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Literature of the Faroe Islands

This week, we would like to draw attention to a blog written by Pardaad Chamsaz, Curator of Germanic Collections at the British Library, on the literature of the Faroe Islands: https://blogs.bl.uk/european/2020/04/this-grain-of-sand-is-nevertheless-a-whole-world-literature-of-the-faroes.html

The Faroes’ literary traditions are therefore both long-established and yet still novel; they are also both local and yet inextricably tied to Denmark and the wider world. These tensions have defined the distinctiveness of Faroese literature.  — Pardaad Chamsaz

If this has made you curious about Faroese literature, you may like to browse our two translations:

Walpurgis Tide

Jógvan Isaksen’s Walpurgis Tide, translated by John Keithsson and featuring a foreword by Dominic Hinde, is a thrilling slice of Faroese crime fiction. Two British environmental activists are discovered dead amongst the whale corpses after a whale-kill in Tórshavn. The detective Hannis Martinsson is asked to investigate by a representative of the organisation Guardians of the Sea – who shortly afterwards is killed when his private plane crashes. Suspicion falls on Faroese hunters, angry at persistent interference in their traditional whale hunt; but the investigation leads Martinsson to a much larger group of international vested interests, and the discovery of a plot which could devastate the whole country.

You can read a report of our book launch for Walpurgis Tide in a previous blog post here, and a review of it here. It’s a timely read, as this 2020 documentary by the BBC demonstrates.

Walpurgis Tide is available to order here, or as an eBook on Kindle here –perfect if you don’t want to wait for the post to arrive!

Barbara 

Originally written in Danish, Barbara was the only novel written by the Faroese author Jørgen-Frantz Jacobsen (1900–38), yet it quickly achieved international bestseller status and is still one of the best-loved classics of Danish and Faroese literature. This translation is by George Johnston.

On the face of it, Barbara appears to be a historical romance: it contains a story of passion in an exotic setting with overtones of semi-piracy; there is a powerful erotic element, an outsider who breaks up a marriage, a built-in inevitability resulting from Barbara’s own psychological make-up… everything you might desire in a page-turning love story! But Barbara stands as one of the most complex female characters in modern Scandinavian literature: beautiful, passionate, devoted, amoral and uncomprehending of her own tragedy. Jørgen-Frantz Jacobsen portrays her with fascinated devotion, and the ‘romance’ is in the vein of Daphne du Maurier’s darker tales.

Barbara is available to order here.

Further reading

The Facebook page for the Representation of the Faroes in London shares further ideas for lockdown reading on a Faroese theme: https://www.facebook.com/faroesinlondon and the FarLit website has some recommendations for your reading list too: https://www.farlit.fo/

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Finding a look for Vega Maria

Norvik’s designer Essi Viitanen gives us a guided tour through the process of designing a cover for Chitambo. 

The process of designing a cover for Chitambo began with reading the book and discussing the material with Sarah Death, the translator of the novel. Sometimes Norvik Press book covers have original illustrations but for Chitambo’s cover we thought it best to look for an existing image. The basic requirements for the image are high resolution (at least 300dpi for printing) and suitable space for the typography: book title and names of the author and translator. If possible, it is also preferable the image is public domain and free to use.

I began by looking for photographs that might work thematically or capture a significant detail of the novel. Whilst reading the book one paragraph had caught my eye: ‘If I close my eyes, I see a blue horizon and dazzling white sails, always the same vision, and I do not know where it comes from.’ With this in mind I headed to Unsplash, an excellent source for free public domain photographs, in search of images.

Continue reading Finding a look for Vega Maria

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Lockdown reading, taster four: Chitambo

In many countries, the lockdown continues. We are thinking of you all. To help keep spirits high, here is taster four.

Adeleide Johannessen in character as Nora in her tarantella scene from Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll’s House, from a cigarette card c. 1880–82. Nasjonalbiblioteket / National Library of Norway. In this week’s extract, our heroine admires the character of Nora when she visits the theatre.
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Lockdown reading, taster three: Chitambo

It is the third week of our series of blogs focusing on the recent publication of Chitambo by Hagar Olsson, translated by Sarah Death – which means it is time for another extract! Relax with taster three.

Book cover illustration by Wäinö Aaltonen from Hagar Olsson’s Ny generation, 1925. Photo: Geert Nicolai Vestergaard-Hansen, with thanks to Nordic Women’s Literature.
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Lockdown reading, taster one: Chitambo

Looking for some reading to make lockdown life a little more bearable? We have just published Hagar Olsson’s Chitambo, translated by Sarah Death – and you can read taster one today!

Hagar Olsson in the 1920s

From birth, Vega Maria Dreary is caught in a vice of conflicting parental expectations. Her father brings her up to admire history’s heroic male adventurers, while her mother channels her towards housework and conformity. But when puberty comes, paternal half-promises evaporate and Vega has to fight her own way out of the domestic cage. In a time of revolution and civil war in early twentieth-century Finland, she finds it hard to identify her own calling, alighting first on the cause of feminism but feeling her way towards a wider humanitarian mission.

The adult Vega looks back on her younger self with ironic humour, but is in despair about the end of a rocky relationship with her beloved Ta, now transformed by his wartime experiences. She recovers and opts to emulate her childhood hero Livingstone, beating new paths through her own psychological jungle.

A kaleidoscope of changing roles for Vega whirls us through this compelling modernist novel, multi-layered but eminently accessible, with a wonderful feel for language, and vibrant evocations of an era and a place. Considered by many to be Hagar Olsson’s best novel, Chitambo is now available in English for the first time.

Copies can be ordered from our website or via Book Depository.

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Amanda Doxtater talks about her translation of Karin Boye’s queer classic

Literary translation, not unlike Boye’s literary production, can be a personal, creative endeavor with political implications. Translating and publishing this novel marks a concerted attempt to broaden a canon of modernist literature still dominated by white, straight, male Anglophone writers. But as a translator working in the academy, I am equally excited about the ways that translating a book like Crisis might open up the possibility for new forms of literary scholarship that draw no significant distinction between emotion and intellect, or between translation and the scholarly practice of literary criticism. This is a decidedly political proposition. Crisis is a book that screams out for the personal to be acknowledged and attended to rather than ignored or subdued in the name of objectivity or equivalence, and I have tried to hear that.

This novel, with all of its elegance and awkward peculiarities, has compelled me for half of my life — unlike any other book I’ve encountered. I was an awkward nineteen-year-old when I first read it in a course on Swedish women’s literature at the University of Washington — an initial exposure that coincided with my first taste of Nietzsche, Freud, and Marx, all of whom Boye had engaged with to write it. Undaunted by the fact that Boye’s prose would stretch my undergraduate Swedish skills to their utmost limits, I set out (pencil to paper, with a heavy, bound dictionary) to bring it into English. It was an automatic reflex. I was self-aware enough to know that it was a naïve undertaking, but I was convinced that being so close in age to Malin would afford me insight into her experience that would compensate for my deficiencies. Thinking back, I would like to believe that my decision to translate Crisis went something like the moment when Malin first glimpses Siv sitting in front of her and is both struck and soothed by the beauty of her gently-sloping shoulders. As it did with Malin, the vision of Siv also offered me a reprieve of sorts after having made my way through a significant portion of a book that I still find largely perplexing (if wondrous). The scene sparked desire, and translation was the most appropriate way for me to express it. If undertaking the labor of translation began with a flush of infatuation, it eventually transformed into a project of admiration and even a kind of love. Crisis became the center of my own intellectual Bildungsroman. I returned to it as an MA student and wrote my thesis on the novel, comparing Malin to Diva, the protagonist in Monika Fagerholm’s postmodern novel by the same name. The two protagonists had too many compelling similarities, I argued, to allow us to draw a sharp distinction between modernism and postmodernism. During this period, I had the fortunate opportunity to workshop a section of my draft in a translation seminar with the amazing translator, Tiina Nunnally. I finished my thesis, but set the translation aside for more than a decade.

This is the opening of the Translator’s Afterword. To read more from Amanda Doxtater about her working relationship with this original and exciting book, get your copy of Crisis here.

Karin Boye, circa 1930s. Public domain.