Lockdown reading, taster four: Chitambo

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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.

Lockdown reading, taster three: Chitambo

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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.

Lockdown reading, taster one: Chitambo

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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.

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

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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.

Karin Boye’s modernist classic now published in English for the first time

Malin Forst is a precocious, devout twenty-year-old woman attending a Stockholm teachers’ college in the 1930s. Confounded by a sudden crisis of faith, Malin plunges into a depression and a paralysis of will. Oscillating between poetic prose, social realism, fragments of correspondence, and imagined dialogues between the forces of nature, Crisis telescopes Malin’s distress out into metaphysical planes and back, as her mind stages struggles between black and white, Dionysian and Apollonian, and with an everyday existence that has become unbearably arduous.

And then an intense infatuation with a classmate reorients everything.

First published in Swedish as Kris in 1934, Boye’s meditation on a crisis of faith and queer desire is recognised as a modernist classic for its stylistic and literary experimentation. Now, in January 2020, the full text is available in English for the first time, translated by Amanda Doxtater. You can find it in all good bookstores, or via norvikpress.com.

For a taster of a key scene, download an extract here.

Lobster Life book launch

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Monday November 11th
17:30-19:00

1-19 Torrington Place
WC1E 7HB, London

Join us for the Norvik Press book launch of Erik Fosnes Hansen’s Lobster Life. This captivating and affectionate coming-of-age tale is narrated by Sedd, who as a high school student has decided to write his memoirs. He lives an isolated childhood in a grand Norwegian mountain hotel. Life at the hotel is not what it used to be; Norwegians have deserted the traditions of their native land, with its invigorating ski trips and lake-fresh trout, for charter tours to ‘the infernal south’. Sedd’s grandparents are fighting a losing battle to maintain standards at Fåvnesheim hotel, which has been in the family for generations, whilst the young Sedd observes developments with a keen eye for the absurd and a growing sense of unease that all is not well. He has his own demons too, as he tries to unearth the truth about his father, an Indian doctor who died as Sedd was conceived, and his mother, who was ‘taken by Time’ when he was a toddler and whom he remembers only as a foxy-red sheen in the air.

The event will feature a discussion with author Erik Fosnes Hansen and translator Janet Garton. This is followed by drinks and light refreshments.

Come join us for an evening of lively discussion on literature, translation and a bout of nostalgia for Norwegian mountain holidays.

Sign up for the event here

Read extract of Lobster Life

Norvik’s Norwegian autumn

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As the weather turns chillier, we’re delighted to bring you not one but two contemporary Norwegian novels. Curl up in your favourite chair and enjoy two of Norway’s most acclaimed authors, both translated into English by Janet Garton.

Heading for all good bookstores this October, Jan Kjærstad’s thought-provoking and subtle Berge weaves together the voices of three citizens, each affected in their own way by a heinous crime in the forest outside Oslo. Read a preview here.

Erik Fosnes Hansen’s Lobster Life captures the absurdities and tragedies of life in a country hotel on the brink of ruin. Like a latter-day Holden Caulfield, the orphaned Sedd reminds us that humans are a lot like lobsters: their vulnerable innards are not reliably protected by their hard shells. But struggle on we must, even if we lose a claw or two along the way. Click here to read a preview, or find Lobster Life in all good bookstores, or via norvikpress.com.

Find more information on both novels in our Norwegian Autumn leaflet:

The Brain in the Aquarium

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When are we alive? Which lives are worth living? What constitutes a real life? And how should we treat lives that are not human? I was left with a number of existential questions after reading A Living Soul. At first I thought a story about a brain in an aquarium would be quite a tedious affair, but I was very wrong.

Not only is A Living Soul philosophical and thought provoking, but it is also exciting, nerve- wracking and tragically romantic (how can a story with a brain as a protagonist be romantic? Well, hence the tragic bit). The disembodied brain Ypsilon is living in a world which is similar to our own but slightly more scientifically advanced. First of all, in this world we can keep a brain with no body alive in a water tank in a science lab. This brain is perfectly able to think and feel like any other human being, but it is of course not able to live a full life. The only other inhabitants of the lab are a dog and some rats. And like the dog and the rats, Ypsilon is a disposable part of a project; a guinea pig. But what happens when this guinea pig is perfectly able to understand what is going on, perfectly able to envision a life outside the prison walls of the water tank, and demands to know the truth of its existence?

P. C. Jersild is, to coin a phrase, the brain behind it all. He wrote his first novel at the age of fifteen, but he thought a writing career would be an insecure path to take and decided to study medicine to give him the prospect of a real job. Luckily, he continued writing, and after a while he realised he could live by his pen. However, the medical world proved to be very fruitful for his authorship, and nearly all his works have featured experiences from life as a doctor and a psychiatrist. This is especially apparent in A Living Soul. It was originally published in Swedish in 1980 and has become the quintessential Swedish sci-fi classic. Jersild has since said that it is one of his favourite works, and one of his more recent novels, Ypsilon, is named after the main character in A Living Soul.

The novel was first published in English by Norvik Press in 1988, translated by Rika Lesser, an award-winning American poet. It is one of those timeless stories that stick with us and keep us posing the important questions. To bring this memorable novel to new, English-reading audiences, we are now issuing a reprint with a stunning new cover.

By Kristin Lorentsen, production assistant