Lars Mytting’s Svøm med dem som drukner was my Norwegian read this year in anticipation of my yearly trip to Norway. I had not heard of the book, nor the author, until I received it from my parents for my birthday. It came highly recommended from friends of theirs, and it had received the Norwegian Booksellers’ Prize for 2014. I started reading it without any ideas of what it was about.
Not only did the book meet all my criteria for my Norwegian book selection (it was by a Norwegian author, it was in Norwegian bokmål, and it generally took place in Norway), but it had the added bonus of bringing alive a bit of Norwegian history with which I was not very familiar. My hope is always that my book selection will transport me back to life in Norway while also refreshing my Norwegian language skills. This book went above and beyond what I was looking and hoping for.
I loved the book! And – updated 8/15/17 – I am extremely happy that I can recommend it to English readers now. The novel is now available in English with the title The Sixteen Trees of the Somme, translated by Paul Russell Garrett.
The book takes place in the early 1990s and is about 23-year old Edvard, a young man whose parents were killed while on a family trip to France in 1971 when he was only 3 years old. Edvard disappeared for a few days afterwards and reappeared far away. He was then raised by his grandfather on a mountain farm in Gudbrandsdalen in central Norway. When his grandfather dies, some until-then unknown information about his parents and their death is revealed, and Edvard is left with many unanswered questions.
His search for answers takes him to Shetland Islands (Scotland) and France and even back to events from World Wars I and II. The book’s publisher describes the book as “a grand family history played out with the big dramatic events in Europe in the 1900s as the background.”
I was caught up in the story from the very start. Edvard and his grandfather lived a lonely life on the farm. It had only been the two of them for several years since the grandmother died. The grandfather had a brother but they were no longer on speaking terms, and this stemmed back to World War II.
Part of the allure of the book to me was that it touched upon a part of Norwegian history that I didn’t know too much about. During the Nazi German occupation of Norway, Edvard’s grandfather had sided with the Germans. He believed the Germans had come to defend Norwegians against an English invasion. He had joined the Norwegian Legion, formed by the German occupying forces, and fought on the Eastern Front against the Russians.
As a Norwegian with two grandfathers who had played roles in Norway’s resistance movement, I was certainly familiar with that aspect of WWII in Norway. But, I did not have much knowledge about Norwegians siding with the Nazi Germans.
The unraveling of Edvard’s family’s past as he travels to Shetland and then later to France is fascinating. The author’s descriptions of the settings are beautiful. I enjoyed his travels around Shetland (with its barren and rugged landscape, quickly changing weather, and Norwegian roots), a place I barely knew before but now feel I have a connection to. Slowly but surely, the pieces of his family history fall into place. Secrets are uncovered. As I learned something new, I was eager to keep reading to uncover even more. The author kept the suspense going until the end, and he even interjected some romance along the way as well.
As a side note, I came across this article from Dagbladet with news that Norwegian director Morten Tyldum (of “The Imitation Game” and “Headhunters” fame) plans to make an international TV series based on the book. That will be an interesting development to follow. Tyldum has started a production company based here in Los Angeles and Oslo, The Norse Code, whose purpose is to bring Norwegian stories to Hollywood. I look forward to following the progress of The Norse Code and its projects!
- Norwegian Title: Svøm med dem som drukner
- Author: Lars Mytting (born 1968)
- Norwegian Publication Date: 2014
- English Title: The Sixteen Trees of the Somme
- Translator: Paul Russell Garrett
- UK Publication Date: August 8, 2017
- Awards: Norwegian Booksellers Award in 2014 (Bokhandlerprisen)
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