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Category Archive for 'Norway'

Set in the aftermath of World War II in the southwestern countryside outside of Oslo, Gaute Heivoll’s emotionally engrossing novel involves big themes, a sense of involvement by the reader, and some lingering questions at the end. The novel draws its action from life in an extended family, where both the mother and father, parents of the unnamed young narrator, once worked as nurses and caregivers at a psychiatric hospital for eleven years. When the father’s old family home in the country burned to the ground before the war, the parents looked on the bright side and decided to rebuild, creating “their own little asylum in the midst of the parish where Papa was born and grew up.” Starting with three adults, they later add five disabled children from the same family. The five Olsen children range in age from Lilly, age seventeen, to Sverre, age four, and all live together in one spacious upstairs room of the home asylum. The writing is remarkably simple in style and often lacks elaboration. As the reader fills in the blanks, his/her involvement with the novel becomes even stronger. The book has little real plot, other than the daily lives of these people, yet I could hardly put it down, wanting to know whether the characters will find happiness, despite some of the complications and tragedies in their lives. Ultimately, the reader cannot help but be drawn in by the force of the writing and the emotions the author creates on the subject of what it means to be human.

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In this newest installment in the Harry Hole series of Nordin noir novels, the eleventh in the series, Norwegian author Jo Nesbo continues the career of Harry Hole, including most of the characters who have filled his previous novels with life, conflict, and even romance. Three years have passed since the last novel, Police, took place, during which Harry has been working as a lecturer at the Police College, a job in which he has inspired young officers without having to stare into the gunsights of criminals on a daily basis. He is getting his life back after being almost killed in the last novel, and he is now happy and sober, married to his long-time love, with his stepson Oleg studying to become a full-fledged member of the police corps. The novel opens quickly with the murder of a female lawyer who has specialized in rape cases. She has been viciously bitten in the throat, though Nesbo is quick to say that the enemy in this book is not a vampire but a vampirist, someone who drinks blood but is not a supernatural character. As the Oslo Police begin to investigate, readers may want to keep a character list of repeating characters as there are about forty characters who appear in this carefully crafted and complex novel, and their relationships may have changed. Many surprises bring together all the threads of this complex novel in a grand conclusion, and they do so in a way which makes sense, deductively, not just by accident. Eventually, the reader believes that there has been a happy ending for the first time ever in a Harry Hole novel, until the Epilogue sets up a new complication, paving the way for yet another suspenseful and addictive story in yet another volume.

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In this second of his “new style” of novels, Norwegian author Jo Nesbo creates a character frantic to escape the Oslo hitmen sent to kill him. Traveling eighteen hundred kilometers in seventy hours of non-stop racing, the character, Ulf, finally reaches the Finnmark Plateau to the far north of Norway. Located well above the Arctic Circle, near the North Pole, Finnmark appears to be the perfect hiding place for Ulf, also known as Jon Hansen. Its enormous land area – larger than the country of Denmark – has only seventy-five-thousand residents – a good place to hide – and with three months of midnight sun, it is not a place where an enemy can sneak up easily in the dark. Like Olav in Blood on Snow, Nesbo’s previous novel, Ulf has become involved with the organized crime ring run by “the Fisherman” in Oslo, and also like Olav, he appears to have a good heart beneath his hard exterior – a young man sucked into being “fixer” for a big-time criminal by circumstances over which he believes he had no control. His fifteen years of schooling, including two years of university, never prepared him for the kind of absolute choice he had to make when, in desperate need of a large sum of money, he connected with the Fisherman as the only way to save a life. Now, on the run because he did not fulfill a contract killing, Ulf has arrived in tiny Kasund, near Kautokeino, home to fishermen, reindeer herders, and the aboriginal Sami culture.

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Swedish author Per Petterson dedicates the ten short stories of Ashes in My Mouth, Sand in My Shoes (1987) to his own father in his first published book, creating a lovely and loving portrait of a father, his young son, and a few other members of their family as they go about their everyday lives in 1960s Sweden. Main character Arvid, who will go on to star in some later books by Petterson, is six years old in the collection’s opening story, growing to the age of ten by its conclusion, a hypersensitive child who notices and cares about the family around him even as he is also aware of how much he depends on them. Arvid’s unique point of view, his life, and his reactions to events in these stories, though perhaps more emotional than what most other children his age experience, are nevertheless so plausible and filled with heart that one cannot help believing that many of the happenings here were real and that the stories are somewhat autobiographical. Seeming to breathe on their own, they need very little exposition to work their magic and draw in the reader, to whom they feel somehow familiar, no matter how the time, setting, and action may differ from our own. A very small book, with very short stories, Ashes in My Mouth, Sand in My Shoes carries a disproportionately large impact, a debut which clearly presages the enormous success this author would eventually have in the literary world.

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Petterson begins the novel in 2006, as Jim, a man in his fifties who never knew his father, almost runs over an old man while driving through a snowstorm in the early morning hours. He wonders if the old man, who is uninjured, could have been his unknown father, a motif which echoes throughout. Jim is on his way to the suspension bridge that connects the island of Ulvoya to the mainland, a few miles south of Oslo. He fishes from the bridge a few times a week in the semi-darkness just before dawn, a peaceful activity for a man who must remember to “take his pills.” He resents the “classy cars” which have just begun crossing the bridge as dawn breaks, and he is shocked when someone in a new Mercedes stops and says, unexpectedly, “It’s Jim, isn’t it?” The speaker is Tommy Berggren, his dearest friend from childhood, with whom he has had virtually no contact for almost thirty years, a man who now looks “like Jon Voight in Enemy of the State,” but who miraculously recognizes him from the crowd. I Refuse is, I believe, Norwegian author Per Petterson’s most overwhelming and powerful novel yet, a novel which, even now, three days after I finished reading it, still has hold of my heart and still echoes in my memories throughout the day. I have read and reread passages just to be sure that they really do happen the way I thought they did, hoping that if I could just reread them one more time with a new vision that maybe I could keep the sad inevitabilities from happening in quite the same way, this time around. I don’t think I am the only one who will feel this way

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