It’s approaching the time of year when, under normal circumstances, holidays would be on the horizon. This week, we bring you our stay-at-home summer reading selection from Norway, for comfort and relaxation wherever you’ve chosen to hang your hammock this season.
For those who like their sunshine tempered by Nordic noir, we would recommend Jan Kjærstad’s Berge, translated by Janet Garton. One August day in 2008 a Norwegian Labour Party MP is discovered in a remote cabin in the country, together with four of his family and friends, all with their throats slit…
Read taster extracts presenting different perspectives on the case, before progressing to the full investigation – you can order your copy here.
Nostalgic for summers past, when one could still attend social functions? We suggest Johan Borgen’s Little Lord, translated by Janet Garton. Wilfred – the eponymous Little Lord – is a privileged young man growing up in upper-class society in Kristiania (Oslo) during the halcyon days before the First World War. Beneath his charming demeanour, however, runs a darker current; he is haunted by the sudden death of his father and driven to escape the stifling care of his mother for risky adventures in Kristiania’s criminal underworld. The two sides of his personality must be kept separate, but the strain of living a double life threatens breakdown and catastrophe…
For a whimsical read with heart and an unforgettable protagonist, seek no further than Erik Fosnes Hansen’s Lobster Life, translated by Janet Garton. It serves up all the best bits of a beach read – hotel life, excursions, even a budding holiday romance. Be prepared to fall out of your hammock laughing, and crying (lobsters do have claws, after all…)
This week we’re highlighting two translations from our ‘Lagerlöf in English‘ series: Nils Holgersson’s Wonderful Journey through Sweden (1906-07), available here; and The Phantom Carriage (1912), available here, both translated by Peter Graves.
This blogpost is adapted from a longer essay by one of our directors, Claire Thomson. If you read Swedish, you can download it for free here.
As we begin to understand Covid-19, this dreadful new disease afflicting humankind, there is some comfort to be found in the thought that within the last century, great leaps were made in the treatment and control of another scourge: tuberculosis. In Sweden alone, half a million people died of tuberculosis between 1900 and 1950. In 1904, the Swedish National Association Against Tuberculosis (Nationalföreningen mot Tuberkulos) was established to coordinate public health education about the disease. One of the association’s founders, alongside Crown Prince Gustav, was the author Selma Lagerlöf.
In its first few decades, a key activity for the Association was to organise peripatetic lectures and film and slide shows educating Swedes about hygiene and other preventative measures against tuberculosis. Money was raised for research and education through the sale of stamps and the majblomma flower pin. But a subtler means of raising awareness was Lagerlöf’s writing; she was encouraged by the Association to write the novella The Phantom Carriage (Körkarlen, 1912), a ghost story which lays bare the sickness, poverty and misery engendered by tuberculosis. The novella was adapted for the silver screen in 1920-21 by the great Swedish director and actor Victor Sjöström. A blockbuster of its day, it was one of the first films to use double exposure, and inspired the young Ingmar Bergman to take up filmmaking.
Feature films and literature can, of course, indirectly promote public health messages. But in the days before television and social media, purpose-made short films were widely used in public information campaigns. In 1952, twelve years after her death, Lagerlöf’s writing again played a role in educating the Swedish populace about the fight against tuberculosis. By this time, half a century of research had resulted in effective prevention and treatment, and Sweden had been one of the countries to pioneer a nation-wide screening and vaccination programme in the 1940s (including the use of miniature x-ray machines in buses). The dramatist Martin Söderhjelm was commissioned by the National Association Against Tuberculosis to make a short film reminding Swedes of the work of the Association, encouraging them to participate in medical screening programmes, and looking to the future. The sixteen-minute film, shown in cinemas around the country in autumn 1952, was Medan det ännu är tid: ‘While there’s still time’.
In order to engage its audience, Medan det ännu är tid opens with a tale that every Swedish cinema-goer would remember from their school days: an episode from Lagerlöf’s Nils Holgersson. Chapter XLIV of the epic novel fills in the back-story of two recurring characters, Åsa the goose-girl and her little brother Mats, and the film devotes its first five minutes to the sad fate of these fictional children. Åsa and Mats are from a poor Småland family. Their siblings and mother are infected by a traveller and die one by one, and their father flees. The orphaned Åsa and Mats attend a lecture explaining the symptoms, prevention and treatment of tuberculosis, and they realize that their family died of the disease, not of the sick traveller’s curse. Åsa and Mats embark on their own journey through Sweden to find their father, navigating forests, towns and frozen lakes (see below), and along the way they tell the people they encounter about the need for good hygiene in combating the spread of tuberculosis. The film thus stages the historical phenomenon of travelling public health lecturers, an authentic detail already embedded in the novel by an author who was herself a founding member of the National Association Against Tuberculosis. But in typical Lagerlöf style, public health education is also framed in Nils Holgersson as a kind of mythical or folktale-style wandering across the national map, undertaken by the good citizens Åsa and Mats.
Both in Lagerlöf’s novel and Söderhjelm’s film, the fight against tuberculosis thus emerges as a collective undertaking for Swedish society, a battle that is fought not only by scientists and medics, but by ordinary people doing simple, everyday things – like washing their hands.
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For Peter Graves’ translation of Nils Holgersson’s Wonderful Journey through Sweden, Norvik Press commissioned original illustrations from the illustrator Bea Bonafini. Bea comments here on her illustration for chapter XXV, which depicts a dramatic episode in Åsa and Mats’ trek through Sweden:
Possibly my favourite image, I chose this tragic moment for its visual power, as well as for how poignantly Lagerlöf depicts the race for survival of the brother and sister. I imagined the aerial view of the running children, seen from the perspective of the gander and the boy as they direct the children out of the maze of cracking ice. The image evokes the precarious balance between life and death as the children try to avoid running into dead ends while making their way across. It is the first inverted image I use, where the picture of the iced lake fills a negative space, causing an initial sense of disorientation appropriate to the nature of the image.
Although in-person Pride marches originally planned for this summer are now postponed or re-envisioned online due to the pandemic, there are lots of alternative ways to support the movement. This week, we are highlighting two titles for your LGBTQ+ and ally reading lists.
Crisis by Karin Boye
Karin Boye’s Crisis is a queer modernist masterpiece. Recently published in a translation by Amanda Doxtater, it defies stylistic conventions through its innovative use of voice and has even had a love letter written to it! You can find an extract here, and order the full book while supporting your friendly local bookshop via Hive here.
Bang: A Novel about the Danish Writer by Dorrit Willumsen
Bang by Dorrit Willumsen, translated by Marina Allemano and a Nordic Council Literature Prize awardee, re-works the life story of the pioneering journalist, author and dramatist Herman Bang in a series of compelling flashbacks that unfold during his last fateful reading tour across the USA. Bang (1857–1912) was a key figure in Scandinavia’s Modern Breakthrough. Having fled his birthplace on the island of Als ahead of the Prussian advance of 1864, he was later hounded out of Copenhagen, Berlin, Vienna, and Prague by homophobic laws and hostility to his uncompromising social critique. You can read an extract from the first chapter detailing Bang’s memories of his childhood here or order the book through Hive here.
Fear of strangers, of the danger lurking outside the safe walls of home – this is a feeling many have become familiar with in recent weeks. In Ilmar Taska’s dramatic novel Pobeda 1946: A Car Called Victory, the fear is of a more tangible enemy, as resistance workers hide from the Soviet occupying forces in Estonia just after the Second World War. A young boy is entranced by the sudden appearance in his street of a shiny new car – and then tricked into betraying secrets he does not know he holds.
There are times over the past twelve weeks or so when our semi-isolated living situation has made us feel we’ve been transported back to an earlier age. Living in a rural area in particular, and seeing the busy – if socially distanced – local community interactions and the empty roads, you can almost feel as if you’re a resident of Mrs Gaskell’s Cranford. Or indeed of Selma Lagerlöf’s Mårbacka, where families struggle, to be sure, and life can be physically and mentally tough, but the pace of things is largely determined by the slowly changing seasons and the length of time it takes to get anywhere on foot, or in a horse and gig along the winding, hilly roads round the lakes of Värmland province.
In the lockdown months we’ve all come to appreciate the value of a full larder, and in that we have much in common with the housekeeper at Mårbacka farm, who prides herself on a full storehouse to keep the large household going. Read our evocative extract here.
Explore the world of Selma Lagerlöf not only in Mårbacka but through our whole series ‘Lagerlöf in English’, translated by Peter Graves, Linda Schenck and Sarah Death. This great Swedish storyteller brings you tales of everything from love in sickness and in health, via romance and betrayal, hauntings and untimely deaths, salty sea air and valiant derring-do, to family life with its fractious and funny moments and its small delights.
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.
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.
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.
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 Faroeseliterature. — Pardaad Chamsaz
If this has made you curious about Faroese literature, you may like to browse our two translations:
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!
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.
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.