Kristin Lavransdatter (three books)
by Sigrid Undset
When you finish with the first volume of Kristin Lavransdatter I can almost guarantee you will put it down and immediately rush out to pick up the next. I think of this series as a 14th century soap opera. These historical novels by Sigrid Undset, one of Norway's most-loved authors and a Nobel Prize winner in literature, take place in a wild and beautiful country. The world that Kristin inhabited was the era of the high Middle Ages, and the people were relatively new to the new belief system of Christianity. The old Norse ways still hover in the background. The book is full of passion and absolute perfect historical detail (the author was an historian). This is a time when if your fire went out you must find your way to a faraway neighbor's by horseback and borrow burning coals to carry home. The reader lives with the characters in all the ups and downs of politics and sexual conventions and breaking of conventions of the time. Stunning books. Make sure you read the Penguin edition translated by Tiina Nunnally, an award-winning translator.
"As a novel it must be ranked with the greatest the world knows today." – Montreal Star
"No other novelist, past or present, has bodied forth the medieval world with such richness and fullness of indisputable genius. …xOne of the finest minds in European literature." – New York Herald Tribune
"Kristin had thought that if she came up over the crest of her home mountains, she would be able to look down on another village like their own, with farms and houses, and she had such a strange feeling when she saw what a great distance there was between places where people lived. She saw the little yellow and green flecks on the floor of the valley and the tiny glades with dots of houses in the mountain forests; she started to count them, but by the time she had reached three dozen, she could no longer keep track. And yet the marks of settlement were like nothing in that wilderness." – Kristin Lavransdatter, Penguin, 2005 edition.
Gösta Berlings Saga
by Selma Lagerlöf
Selma Lagerlöf was the first woman to win the Nobel Prize in Literature. This novel, published in 1891 has always been a favorite for those who discovered her writing (Some having first discovered her charming children's books). Strong women figures characterize this novel, along with a very unlikeable defrocked priest. A fascinating historical saga, with many passages filled with the beauty of the Swedish landscape.
"Splendid … a fascinating peek into 19th century Sweden, and … a cracking good read." – Belletrista
"Every book of this great storyteller keeps on bringing us astonishing examples of her art." – Hermann Hesse
"One cold day in December a beggar came wandering up the hills of Broby. He was dressed in the shabbiest rags, and his shoes were so worn that his feet were wet from the cold snow. …xLöven is a long, narrow lake in the province of Värmland, laced up in a few places by long, narrow straits. To the north it extends up toward the forests of Finnmark, to the south down toward Vänern. Several parishes spread out along its shores, but Bro parish is the largest and wealthiest. It occupies a good part of the shores of the lake on both the east and west side. …Broby sits on a steep incline. The beggar had gone past the inn, which sits at the foot of the hill, and was plodding up toward the parsonage, which sits farthest up." – Gösta Berlings Saga, Penguin Classics, 2009 edition.
Doctor Glas: A Novel
by Hjalmar Söderberg
Published in 1905 Söderberg's novel is set against the background of Stockholm at the end of the 19th century. Doctor Glas, a lonely obsessive man, becomes involved with a patient. This dilemma leads to his examination, told in the form of a personal diary, of some of the great moral complexities of life. Brooding, as are many Scandinavian works of art, yet worth reading, not only for the fine writing and intense story, but also for the many scenes of Stockholm life.
"… not only sketches the light and shadows of its time, but maps territory still being explored by the writers of today. It is a volcano, shaking, about to erupt." – The New York Times Book Review
"Elegant, vigorous, and tightly-knit." – Margaret Atwood, from the Introduction
"I've never known such a summer. A sultry heat-wave since mid-May. All day a thick cloud of dust hangs unmoving over streets and market-places. … Only as evening falls do one's spirits revive a trifle. I am just back from my evening stroll, which I take almost daily after visiting my patients, and they aren't many now in the summertime. From the east comes a steady cool breeze. The heat-wave lifts and drifting slowly off turns to a long veil of red, away to westward. No clatter, now, of workmen's carts; only, from time to time, a cab or tram clanging its bell." – Doctor Glas: A Novel, Anchor Books, 2002 edition.
The Half Brother: A Novel
by Lars Christensen
The Half Brother is a strange, yet wonderful saga of four generations in one odd fascinating family in Oslo. It begins in 1945 at the end of World War II. Funny, intimate, yet set to a background of contemporary European history. It won the Nordic Prize for Literature in 2002. Many reviewers have called it a masterpiece, and I would agree. A favorite in our book club despite its length.
"The Half Brother – translated into compulsively readable prose by writer Kenneth Steven – is no mere interesting example of contemporary Scandinavian writing; it's a deeply felt, intricately worked and intellectually searching work of absolutely international importance." – Paul Binding, The Guardian
"'Many thanks!'" … I stood on tiptoe, stretched out my arm as far as I could and took back my change from Esther – twenty-five ore from one drone. She bent out through the narrow hatch and laid her wrinkled hand in my golden curls and let it rest there for a while. Not that it was the first time either, so I was beginning to get used to it. Fred had long since turned away his bag of sugar candy stuffed down into his pocket, and I could tell by the way he was walking that he was furious about something or other." – The Half Brother, Arcade Publishing, 2001 edition.
In Cod We Trust: Living the Norwegian Dream
by Eric Dregni
Despite the title, Eric Dregni's book about his family's yearlong stay in Norway is worth a look. Compared to the other books on the Scandinavian list, this book is more light-hearted and fun; written in a casual conversational way. You will enjoy his exploits with rak fisk (fermented fish) and dried cod, looking for the family home, and his sometimes poignant discoveries. A book to read on the plane traveling to Norway.
"Dregni's writing is light-hearted and fast-paced. Rather than looking beyond stereotypes, he highlights them for comic effect, often with great success. If you're looking for a witty account of the cultural differences between Norway and the United States, look no further." – www.norway.org
"Dregni's charming read will resonate with anyone who has dreamed of tracing their ancestry." – Minneapolis Star Tribune
"Scandinavia has always been viewed as a liberal paradise in my family. We had lived in Belgium for a few years when I was little, but my dad extolled the virtues of the Nordic countries that now know how to take care of their people. … A hundred and ten yeas ago when my great-grandfather Ellef left Norway, the country was overpopulated and many people undernourished. Ellef's brother Johannes came to Minnesota as well but never married, never fit in, and returned home to Norway a failure. I think my dad believes Ellef's journey to America was a mistake all our family's generations since have had to live with." – In Cod We Trust, University of Minnesota Press, 2008 edition.