Hey everyone! We've now journeyed into South Korea and Argentina, and I hope you've enjoyed your reading so far. Let us know in the comments which Argentinian book you read for February and whether you liked it! Now March is just around the corner, so it's time to pack our bags and check out what chilly Norway has to offer us for our ONTD reading challenge!
Major thanks to kjendis5 for helping with the write-up and explaining what were the most important points to focus on. We hope knowing more about the country will help to improve your reading experience! Thank you also to hjalmartazar, krax and patchsassy for keeping the Goodreads group running! And of course to everyone who is participating in the challenge! :D
Norway is a Scandinavian country with a population of 5,3 million (that's just about the population of Washington DC). The country is mountainous, long and narrow, with most of the population living in the southern part. It is well-known for its beautiful fjords, located on the coast towards the North Atlantic. The government is a Constitutional Monarchy and the capital is Oslo.
Norway's history of human settlement dates back at least 10,000 years, to the Late Paleolithic period, the first period in the Stone Age. The first inhabitants of Norway were the Sami people, who live in the Northern part of the country. They have been the subject of discrimination. Today they are legally recognized as a distinct culture and afforded some autonomy.
One chapter of old Norwegian history you’ll be familiar with is the Viking era, when Norse warriors raided the British isles, Western Europe, etc.
For a long time, Norway was dominated by either Sweden or Denmark. It had been under Danish rule for over 400 years until the Napoleonic Wars. Basically Denmark ended up on the losing side and was forced to give up Norway to Sweden. Norway ended up entering a union with Sweden, but there was resistance in Norway and the Swedish crown prince accepted a liberal Norwegian Constitution drafted in 1814, so they had a degree of self-government. During the 19th century, Norway tried to assert its independence from Sweden within the union and to develop a modern Norwegian culture. Norway finally became fully independent in 1905.
During World War II, Norway was a neutral country, but was invaded and occupied by the Germans as early as 1940. The Nazis had a hard time in Norway though, as the general population put up a strong resistance, from strikes to industrial sabotage.
After the war, the Labour party dominated the government until the mid 1960s and implemented some socialist policies including a comprehensive welfare system. Today, the government is run by a Conservative Party called Høyre. Even though the government is «right» on some notes, it accepts a lot of policies that would be considered very “left” in the US. There are 9 parties represented in parliament. The Labour Party has most seats.
Norwegians are all a part of a national health-insurance system guarantees all Norwegians near-free medical care in hospitals, compensation for doctors’ fees, and medicine, as well as an allowance to compensate for lost wages. There is full parental leave for 12 months. Most of Norway’s schools and universities are state-run and free, with everyone eligible for government loans. Since 2013 military service is obligatory for all men and women, but there are fewer spots than eligible people, so in general only the ones who really want to serve end up doing it.
Something Norwegians are proud of, are these famous lists they score high on: life expectancy rates in Norway are among the highest in the world. Norway has the 4th highest per-capita income in the World. Norway has had the highest Human Development Index ranking in the world since 2009, a position also held previously between 2001 and 2006. Norway ranked first on the World Happiness Report for 2017 and currently ranks first on the OECD Better Life Index, the Index of Public Integrity, and the Democracy Index. Norway also has one of the lowest crime rates in the world.
In 1973, the Norwegian government founded the State oil company. The Norwegian economy is dependent largely on its oil industry, it is a big reason for its high per capita income. A government-run oil fund was established in 1990 to invest the surplus revenues of the Norwegian petroleum sector and so protect the economy when prices fluctuate. It has over US$1 trillion in assets, including 1.4% of global stocks and shares, making it the world’s largest sovereign wealth fund.
Although Norway comprises one of the world’s smaller language communities, the country is among the leaders in books published per capita. Several thousand new titles appear annually, of which some three-fifths are of Norwegian origin. Literature is subsidized through a variety of means, including tax exemption, grants to writers, and government purchasing for libraries. The country has 3 Nobel Prize for Literature winners (Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson in 1903, Knut Hamsun in 1920 and Sigrid Undset in 1928). Modern Norwegian authors write about family and failing or difficult relationships in new forms of cohabitation. Creating a home and a community or at least making close relationships work is central to many authors. Often minimalist, nihilist, sometimes satire, naïve and sometimes depressing. This past decade more and more authors are writing about their real life in a novel form, like Karl Ove Knausgård and Vigdis Hjorth is two examples. In this list of recs you'll find very interesting non-fiction books, epic historical fiction, crime, autofiction, a play, and lots of interpersonal drama.
The Ice Palace (Tarjei Vesaas)
OP note: This book won the Nordic Council Literature Prize in 1963. It is a Norwegian classic now.
The schoolchildren call it the Ice Palace: a frozen waterfall in the Norwegian fjords transformed into a fantastic structure of translucent walls, sparkling towers and secret chambers. It fascinates two young girls, lonely Unn and lively Siss, who strike up an intense friendship. When Unn decides to explore the Ice Palace alone and doesn't return, Siss must try to cope with the loss of her friend without succumbing to a frozen world of her own making.
Out Stealing Horses (Per Petterson)
OP note: There's a movie adaptation with Stellan Skarsgard.
We were going out stealing horses. That was what he said, standing at the door to the cabin where I was spending the summer with my father. I was fifteen. It was 1948 and one of the first days of July.
Trond’s friend Jon often appeared at his doorstep with an adventure in mind for the two of them. But this morning would turn out to be different. What began as a joy ride on “borrowed” horses ends with Jon falling into a strange trance of grief. Trond soon learns what befell Jon earlier that day—an incident that marks the beginning of a series of vital losses for both boys.
Set in the easternmost region of Norway, Out Stealing Horses begins with an ending. Sixty-seven-year-old Trond has settled into a rustic cabin in an isolated area to live the rest of his life with a quiet deliberation. A meeting with his only neighbor, however, forces him to reflect on that fateful summer.
Will and Testament (Vigdis Hjorth)
OP note: This hugely controversial book was critically acclaimed and nominated for the (American) National Book Award for Translated History (2019).
Four siblings. Two summer houses. One terrible secret. A woman walks her dog in the snow, drinks wine by the fire and considers the inheritance dispute that's dragging her back towards the family she fled years ago, and the degree to which the horrors and conflicts of the past should be allowed shake her present.
This emotionally searing novel is at once a wrenching look at a family fractured and a meditation on the nature of trauma and memory.
The Wreath (Sigrid Undset)
OP note: Sigrid Undset won the Nobel Prize for Literature thanks to her epic Kristin Lavransdatter historical fiction trilogy. This is the first volume.
Originally published in Norwegian in 1920 and set in fourteenth-century Norway, The Wreath chronicles the courtship of a headstrong and passionate young woman and a dangerously charming and impetuous man. Undset re-creates the historical backdrop in vivid detail, immersing readers in the day-to-day life, social conventions, and political undercurrents of the period. Her prose combines the sounds and style of Nordic ballads, European courtly poetry, and religious literature.
But the story Undset tells is a modern one; it mirrors post-World War I political and religious anxieties, and introduces a heroine who has long captivated contemporary readers. Defying her parents and stubbornly pursuing her own happiness, Kristin emerges as a woman who not only loves with power and passion but intrepidly confronts her sexuality.
Love (Hanne Ørstavik)
OP note: The translator, Martin Aitken, won the PEN Translation Prize for this novel. It was also a National Book Award finalist for Translated Literature.
A mother and son move to a village in northern Norway, each ensconced in their own world. Their distance has fatal consequences.
Love is the story of Vibeke and Jon, a mother and son who have just moved to a small place in the north of Norway. It's the day before Jon's birthday, and a travelling carnival has come to the village. Jon goes out to sell lottery tickets for his sports club, and Vibeke is going to the library. From here on we follow the two individuals on their separate journeys through a cold winter's night - while a sense of uneasiness grows.
The History of Bees (Maja Lunde)
This dazzling and ambitious literary debut follows three generations of beekeepers from the past, present, and future, weaving a spellbinding story of their relationship to the bees, to their children, and to one another against the backdrop of an urgent, global crisis.
England, 1852. William is a biologist and seed merchant who sets out to build a new type of beehive, one that will give both him and his children honor and fame.
United States, 2007. George is a beekeeper fighting an uphill battle against modern farming, but he hopes that his son can be their salvation.
China, 2098. Tao hand paints pollen onto the fruit trees now that the bees have long since disappeared. When Tao's young son is taken away by the authorities after a tragic accident, she sets out on a grueling journey to find out what happened to him.
Haunting, illuminating, and deftly written, The History of Bees joins these three very different narratives into one gripping and thought-provoking story that is just as much about the powerful bond between children and parents as it is about our very relationship to nature and humanity.
The Half Brother (Lars Saabye Christensen)
This Nordic Prize-winning novel, a truly gripping epic, relates the lives of four generations of a unique and strange family with touching intimacy and surreal comedy.
Traces four generations of a family marked by the untimely birth of Fred, a misfit and boxer conceived during a devastating rape who forges an unusual friendship with his younger half-brother, Barnum.
A Modern Family (Helga Flatland)
When Liv, Ellen, and Håkon, along with their partners and children, arrive in Rome to celebrate their father’s 70th birthday, a quiet earthquake occurs: their parents have decided to divorce. Shocked and disbelieving, the siblings try to come to terms with their parents’ decision as it echoes through the homes they have built for themselves, and forces them to reconstruct the shared narrative of their childhood and family history. A bittersweet novel of regret, relationships, and rare psychological insights, A Modern Family encourages us to look at the people closest to us a little more carefully, and ultimately reveals that it’s never too late for change.
The Bell in the Lake (Lars Mytting)
OP note: This historical fiction novel was a #1 best seller in Norway
As long as people could remember, the stave church’s bells had rung over the isolated village of Butangen, Norway. Cast in memory of conjoined twins, the bells are said to ring on their own in times of danger. In 1879, young pastor Kai Schweigaard moves to the village, where young Astrid Hekne yearns for a modern life. She sees a way out on the arm of the new pastor, who needs a tie to the community to cull favor for his plan for the old stave church, with its pagan deity effigies and supernatural bells. When the pastor makes a deal that brings an outsider, a sophisticated German architect, into their world, the village and Astrid are caught between past and future, as dark forces come into play.
The Unseen (Roy Jacobsen)
OP note: This is the first of a trilogy and was shortlisted for the Man Booker International Prize.
Ingrid Barrøy is born on an island that bears her name - a holdfast for a single family, their livestock, their crops, their hopes and dreams.
Her father dreams of building a quay that will connect them to the mainland, but closer ties to the wider world come at a price. Her mother has her own dreams - more children, a smaller island, a different life - and there is one question Ingrid must never ask her.
Island life is hard, a living scratched from the dirt or trawled from the sea, so when Ingrid comes of age, she is sent to the mainland to work for one of the wealthy families on the coast.
But Norway too is waking up to a wider world, a modern world that is capricious and can be cruel. Tragedy strikes, and Ingrid must fight to protect the home she thought she had left behind.
A Death in the Family (Karl Ove Knausgård)
OP note: This dude wrote 6 volumes of autobiographical novels at age 40, immediately pissing off (and getting sued by) his family and friends for exposing every detail of their lives. This will certainly not be everyone’s cup of tea, but Knausgard is definitely a literary star, admired by authors such as Zadie Smith and Jeffrey Eugenides and selling a shitload of books in Norway and abroad. This book is occasionally just called "My Struggle (volume 1)" depending on the publisher.
Karl Ove Knausgaard writes with painful honesty about his childhood and teenage years, his infatuation with rock music, his relationship with his loving yet almost invisible mother and his distant and unpredictable father, and his bewilderment and grief on his father's death. When Karl Ove becomes a father himself, he must balance the demands of caring for a young family with his determination to write great literature. In A Death in the Family Knausgaard has created a universal story of the struggles, great and small, that we all face in our lives. A profoundly serious, gripping and hugely readable work written as if the author's very life were at stake.
The Cold Song (Linn Ullmann)
Siri Brodal, a chef and restaurant owner, is married to Jon Dreyer, a famous novelist plagued by writer’s block. Siri and Jon have two daughters, and together they spend their summers on the coast of Norway, in a mansion belonging to Jenny Brodal, Siri’s stylish and unforgiving mother.
Siri and Jon’s marriage is loving but difficult, and troubled by painful secrets. They have a strained relationship with their elder daughter, Alma, who struggles to find her place in the family constellation. When Milla is hired as a nanny to allow Siri to work her long hours at the restaurant and Jon to supposedly meet the deadline on his book, life in the idyllic summer community takes a dire turn. One rainy July night, Milla disappears without a trace. After her remains are discovered and a suspect is identified, everyone who had any connection with her feels implicated in her tragedy and haunted by what they could have done to prevent it.
Hunger (Knut Hamsun)
OP note: This, and "Growth of the Soil", which earned the author a Nobel Prize for Literature, are well-known Norwegian classics. So I suppose it's kind of obligatory to include Hamsun in the list. Basically he's huge in world literature and he influenced all those "serious male writers" of the modernist period like Kafka, Henry Miller, Hermann Hesse, Hemingway, etc. But. Another important fact about him is that he was a Nazi.
Knut Hamsun made literary history with the publication in 1890 of this powerful, autobiographical novel recounting the abject poverty, hunger and despair of a young writer struggling to achieve self-discovery and its ultimate artistic expression. The book brilliantly probes the psychodynamics of alienation, obsession, and self-destruction, painting an unforgettable portrait of a man driven by forces beyond his control to the edge of the abyss.
The Redbreast (Jo Nesbø)
OP note: Jo Nesbø is by FAR the most famous Norwegian crime writer, one of the titans of Scandi crime.
A report of a rare and unusual gun - a type favoured by assassins - being smuggled into the country sparks Detective Harry Hole's interest. Then a former WW2 Nazi sympathizer is found with his throat cut. Next, Harry's former partner is murdered. Why had she been trying to reach Harry on the night she was killed?
As Harry's investigation unfolds, it becomes clear that the killer is hell-bent on serving his own justice. And while the link between the cases remains a mystery, one thing is certain: he must be stopped.
Don't Look Back (Karin Fossum)
OP note: Fossum is considered the "Norwegian queen of crime". Her Inspector Sejer novels have been adapted into a successful Norwegian TV series.
Meet Inspector Sejer: smart and enigmatic, tough but fair. At the foot of the imposing Kollen Mountain lies a small, idyllic village, where neighbors know neighbors and children play happily in the streets. But when the body of a teenage girl is found by the lake at the mountaintop, the town's tranquility is shattered forever. Annie was strong, intelligent, and loved by everyone. What went so terribly wrong? Doggedly, yet subtly, Inspector Sejer uncovers layer upon layer of distrust and lies beneath the town's seemingly perfect façade.
Dregs (Jørn Lier Horst)
OP note: Horst is not so well-known abroad, but in Norway his books have sold over two million copies and been adapted for TV.
Meet Chief Inspector William Wisting, an experienced policeman who is familiar with the dark side of human nature. He lives in challenging times for the Norwegian police force, meeting them with integrity and humanity, and a fragile belief that he can play a part in creating a better world. Dregs begins with a police report giving the place and time of the discovery of a training shoe washed up on the sand, still containing a severed foot from the victim's body, the introduction of CI William Wisting, and the first hint of his health worries. Soon a second shoe is washed up, but it is another left. What is the explanation for this? Has there been some kind of terrible accident at sea? Does it indicate the killing and dismembering of two victims? Is there a link with the unsolved mystery of a number of disappearances in the Larvik area in recent months? In this gripping police procedural, Wisting gradually gets to the bottom of the mystery with the help of his all too human colleagues and his journalist daughter, Line.
A Doll’s House (Henrik Ibsen)
OP note: Henrik Ibsen (1828-1906) is often referred to as the father of modern drama, and his works revolutionised the development of dramatic techniques in Europe and the USA. His plays remain popular today. Ibsen’s dramas offer social analysis and critiques, as well as the masterful portrayal of existential and psychological conflict. [source]
A Doll's House (1879) is a masterpiece of theatrical craft which, for the first time portrayed the tragic hypocrisy of Victorian middle class marriage on stage. The play ushered in a new social era and "exploded like a bomb into contemporary life". In their stultifying and infantilised relationship, Nora and Torvald have deceived themselves and each other both consciously and subconsciously, until Nora acknowledges the need for individual freedom.
One of Us: The Story of Anders Breivik and the Massacre in Norway (Åsne Seierstad)
OP note: The author is better known for 'The Bookseller of Kabul'. She also wrote 'Two Sisters', about two Norwegian-Somali girls who ran away from home to join ISIS (and their father's efforts in trying to bring them back).
A harrowing and thorough account of the massacre that upended Norway, and the trial that helped put the country back together.
On July 22, 2011, Anders Behring Breivik detonated a bomb outside government buildings in central Oslo, killing eight people. He then proceeded to a youth camp on the island of Utøya, where he killed sixty-nine more, most of them teenage members of Norway’s governing Labour Party. In The Island, the journalist Åsne Seierstad tells the story of this terrible day and what led up to it. What made Breivik, a gifted child from an affluent neighborhood in Oslo, become a terrorist?
Seierstad excels at the vivid portraiture of lives under stress. She delves deep into Breivik’s troubled childhood, showing how a hip-hop and graffiti aficionado became a right-wing activist and Internet game addict, and then an entrepreneur, Freemason, and self-styled master warrior who sought to “save Norway” from the threat of Islam and multiculturalism. She writes with equal intimacy about Breivik’s victims, tracing their political awakenings, aspirations to improve their country, and ill-fated journeys to the island. By the time Seierstad reaches Utøya, we know both the killer and those he will kill. We have also gotten to know an entire country—famously peaceful and prosperous, and utterly incapable of protecting its youth.
The Way Through the Woods: Of Mushrooms and Mourning (Long Litt Woon)
A grieving widow feeling disconnected from life discovers a most unexpected obsession--hunting for mushrooms--in a story of healing and purpose.
Long Litt Woon moved to Norway from Malaysia as a nineteen-year-old exchange student. Soon after her arrival, she met Eiolf. He became the love of her life. After thirty-two years together, Eiolf's sudden death left Woon struggling to imagine a life without the man who had been soulmate and best friend. Adrift in her grief, Woon signs up for a beginner's course on mushrooming. She finds, to her surprise, that the hunt for mushrooms and mushroom knowledge rekindles her appetite for life, awakens her dulled senses, and provides a source of joy and meaning.
The Way Through the Woods tells the story of two parallel journeys: an inner one, through the landscape of mourning, and an outer one, into the fascinating realm of mushrooms--resilient, adaptable, dizzyingly diverse, and essential to nature's cycles of death and rebirth. An anthropologist and certified mushroom expert, Woon brings a fresh eye and boundless curiosity to the natural world and takes readers from primordial Norwegian forests to hidden-in-plain-sight Central Park pathways. She also introduces a lovable and eccentric cast of mushroom obsessives. Her explorations of the connections between humans, nature, grief, and healing are universal.
Shark Drunk: The Art of Catching a Large Shark from a Tiny Rubber Dinghy in a Big Ocean (Morten A. Strøksnes)
In the great depths surrounding the remote Lofoten islands in Norway lives the Greenland shark. Twenty-six feet in length and weighing more than a tonne, it can live for 200 years. Its fluorescent green, parasite-covered eyes are said to hypnotise its prey, and its meat is so riddled with poison that, when consumed, it sends people into a hallucinatory trance.
Armed with little more than their wits and a tiny rubber boat, Morten Strøksnes and his friend Hugo set out in pursuit of this enigmatic creature. Drawing on science, poetry, history, ecology and mythology, Shark Drunk is the story of their quixotic quest. Together, they tackle existential questions, experience the best and worst nature can throw at them, and explore the astonishing life teeming at the ocean’s depths.
Shark Drunk is, in part, the tale of two men in a very small boat on the trail of a very big fish. It is also a story of obsession, enchantment and adventure. Above all, it is a love song to the sea, in all its mystery, hardship, wonder and life-giving majesty.
MORE NORWEGIAN BOOK RECS
Norwegian crime fiction
Top 10 Norwegian crime books
The crime fiction of Oslo
Why Norwegian Literature Is Breaking Records Abroad
The Guardian's top 10 Norwegian novels
12 best Norwegian novels/authors
Five Great Norwegian Writers Not Named Knausgaard
Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Norwegian Literature (Almost)
sources for Norway write-up: OP, kjendis5 and Encyclopedia Britannica
sources for summaries: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20
have you ever read any Norwegian books, ONTD? what's your pick for this month?