March 2017: Los Angeles Culture Challenge & CicLAvia

A new month means new opportunities to explore the rich diversity of Los Angeles. Highlights this month include Brazilian Carnival and Chinese Lantern festivals, a celebration of Iranian New Year, and CicLAvia.

CicLAvia is one of my favorite LA events that happens 3 to 4 times a year around the greater LA area. On Sunday, March 26, it returns to a fan-favorite route, Culver City Meets Venice. Six miles of streets between Culver City and Venice will be closed to cars, and participants will be free to explore as cyclists, pedestrians, runners, or skaters. We did this route a year and a half ago as a family, and I hope to repeat it this month. There is no better way to get to know a part of town than to ride slowly through it stopping as you please along the way. There are hubs at both ends and one in the middle with special activities and food trucks.

I want to give readers a head’s up about a Scandinavian event happening the very first days of next month, April 1 and 2, the Scandinavian Festival at California Lutheran University in Thousand Oaks. Mark your calendars now so you don’t miss it!

How will you explore the diverse richness of Los Angeles this month? Continue reading

What I’ve Read: Vidunderbarn (Child Wonder) by Roy Jacobsen

Recently, I read Roy Jacobsen’s Vidunderbarn (Child Wonder) for my Scandinavian Book Group. I always make a point of reading a Norwegian book in anticipation of (or during) our annual summer trip to Norway to brush up on my Norwegian, but I don’t often read another beyond that. I’m grateful for discovering this book group because it’s given me an added incentive to search out new (to me) Norwegian authors and carve out more time to read Norwegian.

I first became aware of Roy Jacobsen when I was home in Oslo during the summer of 2016. A Roy Jacobsen book, Hvitt hav (published 2015), was on the display of top 10 paperbacks at a local bookstore, and another of his books, De usynlige (published 2013), was on a table of popular books on sale. I was happy to find a contemporary Norwegian non-crime author who wrote novels set in Norway, and I made a mental note to consider him for a future read.

When it came time to pick the next read for the Scandinavian Book Group, the other members of the group were happy to make the next pick a Norwegian one in my honor (it was my first meeting with them). The only requirement was that it had to be available in English, and they preferred a non-crime book. They had already read Jacobsen’s The Burnt-Out Town of Miracles (Hoggerne, published 2005), so I suggested Child Wonder (Vidunderbarn, published 2009). The description and reviews sounded interesting, and it had received the Norwegian Booksellers’ Prize in 2009 which made it even more promising.

Child Wonder takes place in Norway in the early 1960’s and is about 10-year Finn who lives with his working mother in an apartment complex in a working-class suburb of Oslo. He is a boy who does well in school and enjoys playing outside with his friends. He and his mother get along well. Then their world begins to change. First, they convert Finn’s bedroom into a room that they can rent out, and soon a lodger is staying with them in their apartment. And he brings along a television that ends up in the shared family room. Next, they welcome Linda, Finn’s unknown 6-year old half-sister, into their family.

The book looks at their life together for a little over a year through the eyes of Finn. We see Finn’s relationship with the lodger take shape. We see Finn being a surprisingly mature support and help to his new half-sister. We see his relationship with his mother progress. We see Finn wonder about his worth and place in the family. We also begin to understand that the mother is struggling with something unknown to Finn.

My favorite part of the book is the summer they spend on the island of Håøya, the largest island in the inner Oslo Fjord. The lodger lets them borrow his 6-person tent that is set up on the island. Finn and his half-sister spend a few weeks there enjoying the “green paradise”.

One of the things that makes this book interesting is that Finn is an unreliable narrator. He is young and obviously doesn’t know or understand everything yet. He also doesn’t share everything he experiences. We are left to question and wonder about what we read, in particular about the half-sister (there’s something not right about her), the lodger and the mother’s relationship with him, and the nature of the mother’s struggle. It makes for a good discussion with others who have read the book.

I actually read part of the book in English (the e-book is available through Los Angeles Public Library). Jacobsen’s writing style consisted of very long sentences with very few periods and it slowed down my reading pace, so I had to switch over to English for a few chapters to get through it a little faster in order to finish in time for the book group meeting.

It was interesting to read part of it in translation. It was a British English translation so I had to think twice about some translated words and phrases. In particular, the British word “estate,” used very often, did not suggest the right meaning to me, but I understood what was meant. I found the translation to be consistent with Jacobsen’s writing style. One thing that shocked me, however, was that the translator didn’t just translate, he actually added to the English text. I noticed it in one case, but since I only read a small part in both languages, it made me wonder what other additions or changes the translator may have made in the rest of the book.

I enjoyed the book very much. This was a character-driven story that was both heart-warming and heart-breaking at times and that kept me questioning and wondering, even after finishing the book. I’m open to giving one of his newer books a chance. Norwegian readers, please let me know if you have a recommendation – whether it’s one of Roy Jacobsen’s books or another Norwegian read.

February 2017: Los Angeles Culture Challenge & Nordic Spirit Symposium

February brings another month of many opportunities to explore the rich diversity of Los Angeles. Highlights this month include a multitude of events to celebrate Chinese New Year and to honor African-American history and contributions.

For those interested in delving deep into Scandinavian history, there’s the Nordic Spirit Symposium hosted by Scandinavian American Cultural and Historical Foundation happening at California Lutheran University in Thousand Oaks this month. It’s a unique lecture/performance program that “blends music, dining and the free exchange of ideas to enhance the pleasure of learning.” For more details, see Weekend of February 11 & 12 below.

How will you explore the diverse richness of Los Angeles this month? Continue reading

My First Presidential Election as a U.S. Citizen & How I’m Moving Forward

It’s coming up on my four-year anniversary as a U.S. citizen. Becoming an American citizen was not an easy choice, but the rewards have been worthwhile, in particular the right to vote and opportunity to serve on a jury. I made a pact to vote in every election, and it wasn’t until this last election that I was finally able to vote for a United States president.

For me, the presidential choice was an easy one. I was with her, especially considering whom she was running against. On Election Day, I was proud to cast my vote for Hillary and optimistic about the future. However, I was stunned and unprepared to see how quickly my optimism dwindled and left me feeling gutted. It wasn’t long after we began watching the election returns that dread and disbelief entered my consciousness, and I couldn’t shake it. I didn’t realize I was so personally invested in the results.

The next day, when I woke up to what our new world would be, I felt like I was in an alternate reality. I couldn’t even look at our newspaper. I was embarrassed and shocked that we had such a man as Trump as our new head of state. In social media and in real life, I saw so many other people’s disbelief and anger at the results as well. It didn’t help me feel any better.

Staying angry, depressed, and full of despair and saying that Trump is not my president doesn’t help me going forward. Hillary won the popular vote. Most of our country supported her. However, he is our country’s new president and we need to do what we can to make sure America doesn’t fail miserably and is better prepared for the next presidential election.

I have never really been extremely interested in politics nor actively involved in it. Maybe it’s because I’ve had no say in the outcomes. This election made me realize that just voting isn’t always enough; it’s equally important to actively participate in the democratic process as it is to vote.

Going forward, I vow to do the following:

  • I will not tune out politics, but instead I will stay informed and follow political issues. I will seek out sources of respected, high-quality media. I will also look for new sources that help me exit the echo chamber. I want to hear other people’s points of view. If you’re looking for a new source, consider a new favorite podcast of mine, Pantsuit Politics, where two women, one from the left and one from the right, discuss politics in a fresh and nuanced way. Similarly, I will not let inaccurate, incomplete, fake news, or my new favorite phrase, “alternative facts” pass me by without commenting.
  • I will make a conscious effort to read books outside my normal tendency and comfort zone – more books by diverse authors and about issues or experiences new or unfamiliar to me. To start with, I’m adding these books to my to-be-read list (and I welcome suggestions):
  • Similarly, I will make sure to continue to provide opportunities to strengthen my kids’ understanding, empathy, and compassion for people unlike themselves both at home and abroad, and books is a great place to do so. I’m lucky and grateful both my boys are avid and voracious readers and generally accept the book recommendations I pass along. I’ve sought out books to help them understand and appreciate their Norwegian heritage. Now I’ll make a conscious effort to suggest and offer books that will help them understand the experiences of marginalized groups and causes affected by our political discussions. I’ve got a list in progress and welcome suggestions.
  • I will take action and let my elected officials hear my voice. This has always been a big unknown for me. Who exactly do I call and what do I say? But now I’ve been motivated to find out the details. There’s been lots of help floating around the internet these past couple of months. To begin with, I’ve confirmed who all my elected officials are in Congress (representatives here and senators here). Next I’ve found sources that address issues of concern. The 65 (referring to the more than 65 million Americans who rejected Trump on Election Day) is a website dedicated to Weekly Calls to Action. They provide scripts for a long list of issues along with contact info for party leadership and tips and strategies. Another site is Women’s March: 10 Actions/100 Days. It’s a campaign aimed at mobilizing the energy from the Women’s Marches of January 21, 2017, across the country and the world and encouraging everyone to take action on issues we all care about.

These action items might not seem like much to some, but for me they are a good place to start. What are you doing in the aftermath of this election?

My Favorite Books of 2016

I’m getting back into my reading groove. I was proud of my 14 books in 2015, but it turns out I read more than twice that in 2016, 33 to be precise. A few factors influenced the increase in books read. First of all, my renewed interest in reading the previous year caused me to want to read even more, and I was constantly adding to my what-to-read-next list and always had a book ready when I finished the last one. Secondly, I finally tried audiobooks, which definitely helped add books to my completed list. It was great to have an audiobook available for runs, walks, and drives. I often found myself walking or running a little extra just to finish the chapter, and I didn’t mind if there was a little bit of traffic. And lastly, being a member of two book clubs is definitely an incentive to read.

I read many very good books last year, but there were only three books that earned the top rating of five stars, books I thought were “amazing” (description used by Goodreads): The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah, Behold the Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue, and Tell Me Three Things by Julie Buxbaum. These are books whose stories absorbed me and have stuck with me. I’ve recommended them without hesitation to friends and family and even given them as gifts. In the following list, I also included some other books that I really enjoyed, two of which are Scandinavian.

The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah

If I had to choose my absolute favorite book of 2016, it would probably be The Nightingale. It was a pick by my book club. It is a WWII book like so many others, but it explores what I feel is a fascinating, hidden story of WWII. It looks at the lives of two sisters and the roles they played during the war. One sister lived in Paris and became actively involved in the resistance. The other lived in the countryside with her husband and daughter. The husband had to go off to fight, and soon her town was occupied by the Nazi Germans. Both women experienced frightening and difficult situations, but they showed great strength, courage, and perseverance. This book is often mentioned in the same breath as All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr, another WWII book that takes place in France. I read that one in 2015 and enjoyed it greatly, but The Nightingale is my favorite by far.

Behold the Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue

Almost tied for first place is Behold the Dreamers, my Book of the Month pick for September, 2016. It’s a look at the life of an immigrant couple and their child who came from Cameroon to New York City to fulfill the American dream right before the financial crisis of 2007–2008. At first, I was turned off by the fact that they were trying to game the system, coming as refugees when they really weren’t, but I quickly let that feeling go as I was absorbed into their daily lives filled with struggles, joys, and difficult decisions. The ending was not what I expected but I was very satisfied with it. The author Imbolo Mbue is a native of Cameroon and now lives in New York City. I highly recommend this book for anyone eager to diversify their reading with an #ownvoices or immigrant story pick.

Tell Me Three Things by Julie Buxbaum

I came across this YA book just by chance. The cover jumped out at me at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books in April, 2016. How could I resist a cover with Norwegian heart waffles? It turns out Tell Me Three Things has nothing to do with Norwegian heart waffles, but the cover stuck with me. Then, shortly thereafter, I saw it recommended by the teen readers council at our local children’s bookstore. I figured, let’s just give it a try. I loved it. It was a light but moving unputdownable book that I forced myself to put down so it would last longer. It’s about 17-year-old Jessie who moves to Los Angeles to live with her dad (and his new wife and her teen son) after her mother dies. She has to attend a small, private high school, and soon an anonymous person calling themselves Somebody Nobody offers to help her navigate school life. They communicate through emails and texts. I loved the sweet mystery that was wrapped up into this story as Jessie tried to find her way at her new school and figure out who the mystery person was.

The Orphan Master’s Son by Adam Johnson

This was another book club pick, one that I would not have picked up otherwise. The story takes place in North Korea and is about Pak Jun Do, the son of a woman who was “stolen” and a man who ran a work camp for orphans. During Jun Do’s years growing up at the orphanage, he gets his first taste of power as he decides such things as which orphans get to eat first or assigned certain jobs. From there he rises in the ranks and he eventually takes on the life of a rival to the supreme leader Kim Jong-il (1994-2011). Though the book is fiction, it was highly researched by the author and even included a (very supervised) trip the country. The book is a fascinating but extremely disturbing look at life in North Korea. It was one of our book club’s best discussions.

Be Frank with Me by Julia Claiborne Johnson, narrated by Tavia Gilbert

I came across this book when looking over a list of 15 audiobooks that enhance your reading experience. This is the story of Alice who is sent to Los Angeles to be an assistant to Mimi Banning, a reclusive author who has only published one very successful book decades ago but now needs to complete another since she has become broke. Alice is supposed to monitor Mimi’s progress, but instead she becomes full time caregiver for Mimi’s 9-year-old son, “a boy with the wit of Noel Coward, the wardrobe of a 1930s movie star, and very little in common with his fellow fourth-graders”. I loved Frank and was so glad he finally had someone who appreciated and understood him and gave him the time and attention he deserved. If you want to give the audiobook a try, the narrator Tavia Gilbert really did a wonderful job enhancing the reading experience.

The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón, translated from Spanish by Lucia Graves

I read this book many years ago but decided to reread it for our summer trip to Barcelona. I loved it then and yet again now. It takes place in Barcelona after the Spanish Civil War (1945 and onwards) and is about young boy Daniel who discovers a book in the Cemetery of Forgotten Books and becomes obsessed with it. He sets out to discover all he can about about the mysterious author. Along the way, he encounters murder, madness, and love.

My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry by Fredrik Backman, translated from Swedish by Henning Koch

I read this book for my Scandinavian Book Group. It is a wonderfully sweet story about the relationship between a girl and her grandmother. Elsa is not your normal seven-year-old. She is unusually mature for her years, and her best friend is her crazy but devoted grandmother. When her grandmother dies, Elsa is sent on an unusual quest through letters left behind by her grandmother. Elsa’s quest is interwoven with a fairytale story that her grandmother told her growing up. Slowly but surely, we learn more and more about the complicated life of the grandmother and the others living in the apartment building. The ending was surprising but very satisfying.

Blindgang by Jørn Lier Horst

This was my Norwegian read this summer while in Norway, a compelling “cozy” crime story that kept me reading throughout the long summer days. (The English version Ordeal translated by Anne Bruce will be available August 8, 2017.) It is book #10 in the William Wisting series (5th to be translated into English). I had already read #9 Hulemannen (available in English as The Caveman) and knew I liked the police investigator William Wisting, so I had no hesitation picking up another by Horst. It’s really a story of everyday life in a small Norwegian coastal town. A single mother and her one-year-old daughter move into a house inherited from a grandfather with whom she had a rocky relationship. As she makes the house her own, she comes across a locked safe that is bolted to the basement floor. It turns out the safe contains important evidence to a crime that has given the police trouble for a while. This is a character-driven police procedural. The main characters are very likable and relatable. Horst writes about normal daily routines and unusual happenings with equal clarity. I’m looking forward to reading another William Wisting book next summer.

Thinking back about the books I read in 2016 was a fun experience. It’s like revisiting with old friends. Comparing them to ones I read in 2015 was interesting. I’m learning more and more about my reading likes and dislikes, and I’m reading more books outside my normal tendency and seeking out more diverse books. I look forward to another productive and diverse year of reading!

Disclaimer: AVikingInLA is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com.

Scandinavian Film Festival LA 2017: A Preview

sffla-header

The 18th annual Scandinavian Film Festival LA is around the corner. It is one of my favorite annual Scandinavian events in the Los Angeles area. The festival takes place over two weekends in January (14th and 15th followed by 21st and 22nd) at Writers Guild Theater in Beverly Hills. I always look forward to seeing what’s being offered and hope there’s a movie that will transport me back to Norway through language and setting or bring alive a part of Norwegian history for me. I also don’t mind being an armchair traveler to other countries in the region.

Despite my love of the festival, I have a very big pet peeve – the festival’s name. It is not a Scandinavian film festival in the true sense. Officially, Scandinavia is only Norway, Sweden, and Denmark. Since its inception, this festival has included films from Iceland and Finland, and a somewhat recent addition has been films from the Baltic countries of Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia. It’s too bad the name of the festival doesn’t properly reflect the scope of the festival.

This year’s entries include mostly features (many of them a country’s Oscar entry), a few shorts, and a documentary. There’s comedy, drama, adventure, and mystery. Big news for Scandinavian cinema this year is that three Scandinavian films made the shortlist for an Oscar nomination in the Best Foreign Language Film category – the Danish film Land of Mine, the Swedish film A Man Called Ove, and the Norwegian film The King’s Choice. The Danish and Swedish ones can be seen at this year’s festival, but unfortunately, not the Norwegian one. UPDATE 1/13/17: The Norwegian submission The King’s Choice is coming to the festival after all! It will be closing the festival in the evening of Sunday, January 22.

(If you’re curious about the other shortlisted films and the process of how a country’s entry becomes a nominated film, take a look at Oscars: Nine Films Shortlisted for Foreign Language Prize.)

What festival films look interesting to you? On SFFLA’s website, you can view and download a chronological schedule. Please confirm schedule with SFFLA as it may change after this post is published.

  • NORWAY

THE CROSSING (Flukten), documentary by George Kurian (2015), screening: Saturday, 1/14, 12pm This award-winning documentary takes viewers along on one of the most dangerous journeys of present time. A group of Syrians, including young children, is fleeing war and persecution, crossing a sea, two continents, and five countries searching for a home to rekindle the greatest thing they have lost—hope. (55 minutes)

BIRD HEARTS (Fuglehjerter), short by Halfdan Ullmann Tøndel (2015), screening: Sunday, 1/15, 4:30pm — Benjamin and Maya share a life and an apartment in the center of Oslo. On the occasion of Benjamin’s 26th birthday, Tobias, Benjamin’s younger and more successful brother, comes to visit for the weekend. During a late night dinner party with friends, Maya tells a story about a sexual experience she had in Brazil. As a consequence, Benjamin’s insecurities and vulnerabilities begin to surface. (30 minutes)

alt-det-vakreALL THE BEAUTY (Alt det vakre), feature by Aasne Via Greibrokk (2016), screening: Sunday, 1/15, 5pm — Ten years after their upsetting break-up, Sarah visits David at his summer house. He wants her to help him finish his play, but when he tells her it’s about their relationship, she wants him to abandon it. For decades, the two have been united by a web of paradoxes. Both wanted to be loved by the other, despite their faults, questionable morals, and lack of control. They have been addicted to each other’s company and yet they drove each other crazy. But even after all these years, despite anguish and dispute, they recognize that their relationship is still deeply grounded in humor, respect – and love. (91 minutes)

THE KING’S CHOICE (Kongens nei), feature by Erik Poppe (2016), screening: Sunday, 1/22, 7pm — The King’s Choice is based on the true story about the three dramatic days in April, 1940, when the King of Norway was presented with an unimaginable ultimatum from the German Armed Forces: surrender or die. With German Air Force and soldiers hunting after them, the Royal Family was forced to flee from the capital. They decided to go separate ways, without knowing if they would ever see each other again. (133 minutes, shortlisted for Best Foreign Language Film Oscar nomination)

  • SWEDEN

eternal-summerETERNAL SUMMER (Odödliga), feature by Andreas Öhman (2015), screening: Sunday, 1/15, 12pm — Two young lovers meet in Stockholm and begin a whirlwind romance that sends them on an impromptu road trip through northern Sweden, where their summer adventure turns criminal in this Swedish mix of Bonnie & Clyde with a soft touch of Natural Born Killers. (107 minutes)

GHETTO SWEDISH (Rinkebysvenska), short by Bahar Pars (2015), screening: Sunday, 1/15, 7pm — Aisatou is a black actress who’s been hired to record a voiceover for Stockholm’s top ad agency Måns and Petter. The session starts great, but it’s soon clear Måns and Petter want the ad to be more “gangsta.” Aisatou must chose between keeping her integrity or sacrificing it in order to please her employer’s stereotype. (10 minutes)

a-man-called-oveA MAN CALLED OVE (En man som heter Ove), feature by Hannes Holm (2016), screening: Sunday, 1/15, 7:15pm — Ove, an ill-tempered, isolated retiree who spends his days enforcing block association rules and visiting his wife’s grave, has finally given up on life just as an unlikely friendship develops with his boisterous new neighbors. (116 minutes, shortlisted for Best Foreign Language Film Oscar nomination)

A HOLY MESS (En underbar jävla jul), feature by Helena Bergström (2015), screening: Sunday, 1/22, 1pm Simon and Oscar have been a couple for three years and together with their girlfriend, now nine months pregnant, they have bought an apartment outside Stockholm. They don’t know if Simon or Oscar is the father nor have they revealed any news to their families. They invite their somewhat homophobic families to meet for the first time during a Christmas celebration. (108 minutes)

  • DENMARK

land-of-mineLAND OF MINE (Under Sandet), feature by Martin Pieter Zandvliet (2015), screening: Saturday, 1/14, 7:30pm — A group of young German POWs are ordered by Allied forces to dig up 2 million landmines from the coast of Denmark with their bare hands. (100 minutes, shortlisted for Best Foreign Language Film Oscar nomination)

THE COMMUNE (Kollektivet), feature by Thomas Vinterberg (2016), screening: Saturday, 1/21, 6:30pm —  A middle-aged professional couple in 1970s Denmark decides to experiment with communal living by inviting a group of friends and random eccentrics to cohabit with them and their daughter in a sprawling house in the upmarket district of Copenhagen. It is friendship, love, and togetherness under one roof until an earth-shattering love affair puts the community and the commune to its greatest test. (115 minutes)

  • ICELAND

sparrowsSPARROWS (Prestir), feature by Rúnar Rúnarsson (2016), screening: Saturday, 1/14, 1:30pm — This is a coming-of-age story about the 16-year old boy Ari, who has been living with his mother in Reykjavik and is suddenly sent back to the remote Westfjords to live with his father Gunnar. There, he has to navigate a difficult relationship with his father, and he finds his childhood friends changed. In these hopeless and declining surroundings, Ari has to step up and find his way. (99 minutes, Oscar entry)

HEARTSTONE (Hjartasteinn), feature by Gudmundur Arnar Gudmundsson (2016), screening: Saturday, 1/21, 1pm — In a remote fishing village in Iceland, two teenage boys Thor and Christian experience a turbulent summer as one tries to win the heart of a girl while the other discovers new feelings toward his best friend. When summer ends and the harsh nature of Iceland takes back its rights, it’s time to leave the playground and face adulthood. (129 minutes)

  • FINLAND

THE HAPPIEST DAY IN THE LIFE OF OLLI MAKI (Hymyilevä mies), feature by Juho Kuosmanen (2016), screening: Saturday, 1/14, 4pm — This is the true story of Olli Mäki, the famous Finnish boxer who had a shot at the 1962 World Featherweight title. Everything is set for him to become the first ever Finn to be the world champion in featherweight boxing. His manager Elis Ask, a former boxer himself, has prepared everything for them to reach fame and fortune. All Olli has to do is loose weight and concentrate. But he has a problem – he has fallen in love with Raija. (92 minutes, Oscar entry)

LITTLE WING (Tyttö nimeltä Varpu), feature by Selma Vihunen (2016), screening: Sunday, 1/22, 5pm — Varpu is a 12-year old girl who learns how to drive when her friends steal a car. Meanwhile her mother is struggling with her own failed driving tests. One night Varpu has had enough of her mother’s misery. She steals a car and drives up north to find her father. (100 minutes)

  • ESTONIA

AN EMPTY SPACE (Tühi ruum), short/animation by Ülo Pikkov (2016), screening: Saturday, 1/21, 3:30pm — A 10-year-old girl longed for a puppy as a birthday present, but instead she got a father she had no idea was alive. (10 minutes)

MOTHER (Ema), feature by Kadri Kõusaar (2016), screening: Saturday, 1/21, 4pm — This darkly comic crime mystery set in small-town Estonia centers on Elsa, the full time caretaker of her comatose son, Lauri, and the locals, who are abuzz with rumors about who shot Lauri and why. But in this tight-knit town, where everyone seems to know everyone and everything except for what’s right under their nose, the world’s clumsiest crime may go unsolved. (89 minutes, Oscar entry)

  • LITHUANIA

SENECA’S DAY (Senekos Diena), feature by Kristijonas Vildziunas (2016), screening: Sunday, 1/15, 2pm In 1989, the final year of the Soviet era in Vilnius, a group of eighteen-year old buddies establish Seneca’s Fellowship. Its motto is “Live each day as if it was your last.” A love triangle breaks up the fellowship right at the time the nation experiences an exceptional sense of community via the Baltic Chain. Twenty-five years later, the main character, who appears to be accompanied by good luck at first glance, is disillusioned with himself. He has betrayed the ideals of his youth and become a cold observer of life. Life forces him to open up his own Pandora’s box. (106 minutes, Oscar entry)

  • LATVIA

AWESOME BEETLE’S COLORS, short/animation by Indra Spronge (2016), screening: Sunday, 1/22, 2:45pm — A nearly impossible story, supported by a catchy melody, guides us through the ABCs – from Awesome Beetles to Yellow Zebra. It is an educational film that offers visual, audio, and kinesthetic associations that help kids learn the alphabet. (3 minutes)

DAWN (Ausma), feature by Laila Pakalniņa (2015), screening: Sunday, 1/22, 3pm — This film is based on a Soviet propaganda story about Young Pioneer (the Soviet equivalent of a Boy Scout) Morozov, who denounced his father to Stalin’s secret police and was in turn killed by his family. His life exemplified the duty of all good Soviet citizens to become informers, at any expense. In this film, Janis is a pioneer who lives on the Soviet collective farm “Dawn”. His father is an enemy of the farm (and the Soviet system) and plots against it. Little Janis betrays his father; his father takes revenge upon his son. Who then in this old Soviet tale is good and who is bad? This film reveals that a distorted brain is always dangerous. Even nowadays. (90 minutes, Oscar entry)

  • CLOSING THOUGHTS

Many interesting and intriguing images and themes jumped out at me when looking over these offerings. I loved reading phrases like “an apartment in the center of Oslo”, “summer house” (in Norway, along coast according to poster), “road trip through northern Sweden”, and “remote fishing village in Iceland”. Family relationships, friendships, gender identity, and racial stereotypes are explored. History is examined – Syrian refugees fleeing to Europe, World War II in Denmark, and Soviet rule in the Baltic countries. There is something for almost everyone in this selection of works.

Before an unexpected trip to Norway came on my calendar, it was looking like it would be a busy first weekend for me. I had planned to see Norway’s All the Beauty along with possibly Denmark’s Land of Mine and Iceland’s Sparrows. I also had my eyes on Bird Hearts until I read this article which stated, “If you see one sex-film this summer, make it this one. If nothing else, it will all be over in half an hour, even allowing for a cigarette and a decent scrub-down.” (Though Bird Hearts’ filmmaker Tøndel is apparently “an exciting new talent… barely out of film-school… [who] already commands his medium like an old hand.”) I would have loved to see A Man Called Ove, but I haven’t read the book yet so I wanted to wait anyway. Instead of transporting myself to Norway and environs via the screen, I’ll get to immerse myself in Norwegian language and setting in real life.

I’ll be back in time to catch the second weekend. I may visit a remote fishing village during summertime in Iceland in Heartstone and possibly join a 12-year-old as she drives up north in Finland to find her father in Little Wing.

My biggest disappointment is that Norway’s The King’s Choice (Kongens nei) is not being screened at the festival. I am very happy that The King’s Choice will be at the festival after all and I’ll be able to see it. Barnevakten, a Norwegian website that gives advice about media and children, recommends the movie for kids 9 years and older (though they warn that some scenes could be somewhat disturbing to kids on the younger side). Though the movie would have been a good opportunity for my kids to learn more about Norwegian history, it turns out the screening is too late on a school night. I’ll keep an eye out for it on Netflix.

January 2017: Los Angeles Culture Challenge & Scandinavian Film Festival LA

january-2017

Happy New Year! Have you vowed to take advantage of the many diverse cultural opportunities that Los Angeles has to offer? There’s lots to choose from this month. One of my favorite Scandinavian events returns this month, the Scandinavian Film Festival. I always look forward to seeing what’s being offered and hope there’s a movie that will transport me back to Norway through language and setting or bring alive a part of Norwegian history for me. I also don’t mind being an armchair traveler to other countries in the region. For a look at what’s being offered this year, check out Scandinavian Film Festival 2017: A Preview.

How will you explore the diverse richness of Los Angeles this month? Continue reading

Scandinavian Gift Ideas

gift-guide-2016Do you have friends or family with Norwegian or Scandinavian heritage? Or are you looking to open your friends’ and family’s minds to new authors, settings, and cultures? I return with an updated gift guide to help you find gift ideas for friends and family. Here are some of our Scandinavian favorites for you to consider this holiday season. You can’t go wrong with books for both kids and adults, products to promote quality family time, and items to help create a cozy Scandinavian Christmas.

BOOKS FOR KIDS

Here are some of our favorite children’s books related to Norwegian history and culture.

magnus-chase-hammer-of-thorMagnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard: The Hammer of Thor by Rick Riordan: This is the second in a new series by popular children’s author Rick Riordan. You many know him as the author of Percy Jackson and the Olympians, the Kane Chronicles, and the Heroes of Olympus, in which Greek and Roman mythology act as the background. In Magnus Chase, however, Norse mythology takes center stage.

The Klipfish CodeThe Klipfish Code by Mary Casanova: Marit, a 12-year-old girl, and her younger brother are sent to a remote fishing island to live with their grandfather and aunt while their parents stay home to help with the resistance movement during WWII. At one point, Marit finds herself in a situation where she decides to take action despite warnings from her grandfather. This story also sheds light on a little known fact about the Nazi occupation of Norway: one in ten teachers were rounded up and sent to concentration camps for their refusal to teach Nazi propaganda to Norwegian schoolchildren.

lokis-wolvesThe Blackwell Pages (Loki’s Wolves, Odin’s Ravens, and Thor’s Serpents) by K. L. Armstrong & M. A. Marr: The Blackwell Pages is a trilogy that takes place in modern day Blackwell, South Dakota, where most people are direct descendants of Norse gods Thor and Loki. Now Ragnarok is coming, and it’s up to the main characters to fight in the place of the long-dead gods to save the world.

 

West of the MoonWest of the Moon by Margi Preus: This story interweaves Norwegian folk tales into two sisters’ quest to immigrate to America in the 1800s. From the author’s website: “After having been separated from her sister and sold to a cruel goat farmer, Astri makes a daring escape. She retrieves her little sister, and, armed with a troll treasure, a book of spells and curses, and a possibly magic hairbrush, they set off for America.”

Shadow on the MountainShadow on the Mountain by Margi Preus: This is the story of 14-year-old Espen who joins the Norwegian Resistance during WWII. Espen begins by delivering illegal newspapers, then serves as a courier, and finally becomes a spy, dodging the Gestapo along the way. Preus incorporates archival photographs, maps, and other images to tell this story based on the real-life adventures of Norwegian Erling Storrusten, whom Preus interviewed in Norway.

Snow Treasure by Marie McSwigan: This is based on a true story about a group of Norwegian children who smuggled nine million dollars in gold past Nazi sentries during World War II.

Adventures with Waffles by Maria Parr: Written by a Norwegian author and translated, this story takes place in Norway and is about the adventures of two best friends, a boy and girl.

Doctor Proctor Fart PowderDoctor Proctor’s Fart Powder by Jo Nesbø: This is a humorous 4-book series by popular Norwegian mystery author Jo Nesbø. Both my kids thoroughly enjoyed these books.

BOOKS FOR ADULTS

For English language readers who want to step into the world of Scandinavia, I recommend the following Norwegian authors and their translated books.

the-cavemanJørn Lier Horst is my new favorite Norwegian crime writer. Four of his books from the William Wisting series have been translated into English (Dregs, Closed for Winter, Hunting Dogs, and The Caveman). My first introduction to Horst and his series was Hulemannen, or The Caveman. The main character, Chief Inspector William Wisting, is a very likeable character and you get a get a feel for like in small Norwegian town on the east coast.

The RedbreastJo Nesbø is the author of the popular Harry Hole series about a recovering alcoholic police inspector. The series begins with two books set outside of Norway, but then it continues in Oslo with book #3, The Redbreast (book #1 in the Oslo Sequence). The story in this book alternates between the last days of WWII on the Eastern front and modern day Oslo. The Oslo Sequence contains 8 books for those readers who become hooked.

child-wonderRoy Jacobsen is a contemporary Norwegian author to consider if you’d like to step outside the world of crime. He is a prolific writer of novels and short stories, and many of his works have been translated into English. Child Wonder, winner of the prestigious Norwegian Booksellers’ Prize in 2009, is the next read for the Scandinavian Book Group that I’ve recently joined. It takes a look at a Norwegian childhood in the early sixties.

My Struggle KnausgaardKarl Ove Knausgaard is the author of a 6-volume autobiographical series called My Struggle. “Although originally categorized as fiction, the series is an unflinching self-portrait that has Knausgaard as its protagonist and his relatives and loved ones as the supporting cast” (New Republic, April 7, 2014). The first 5 volumes have been translated into English. The latest one, My Struggle: Book Five, was just published in English this past April. I have read the first volume and was surprisingly engaged in his exploration of his struggle with his father. (You can read my thoughts about the first volume here.)

Girl in the Spiders WebAnd finally, there’s the oldie but goodie Swedish author Stieg Larsson. His Millennium Series is a thrilling series about pierced and tattooed superhacker Lisbeth Salander and investigative reporter Mikael Blomqvist and their quests to solve crime cases. The series now continues with The Girl in the Spider’s Web by David Lagercrantz.

 

American authors have also seized the opportunity to use Norway as a setting for their writing.

Sunlit NightIn The Sunlit Night, Rebecca Dinerstein writes about two strangers from New York City who meet in northern Norway’s Lofoten area during the season of the midnight sun. I have always been fascinated by that area of Norway and really enjoyed the emphasis on the setting in this novel. The phenomenon of the midnight sun is incredible to begin with, and experiencing it in northern Norway to boot is unique.

 

Norwegian by NightIn Norwegian by Night, Derek B. Miller tells the story of Sheldon, an elderly Jew, who recently moved from New York City to live in Oslo with his granddaughter and her new Norwegian husband. Sheldon is witness to a crime and takes the victim’s son to safety. “As Sheldon and the boy look for a safe haven in an alien world, past and present weave together, forcing them ever forward to a wrenching moment of truth,” the book jacket says. I am currently thoroughly absorbed in this book.

FAMILY FUN

Do you want to facilitate some quality family time? Consider these family friendly gifts.

There are some great looking Norway-themed puzzles out there! You can choose a traditional flat puzzle (go somewhat manageable with a 1000-piece puzzle or go big with a 3000-piece puzzle), but I’ve also discovered 3D and “augmented reality” puzzles.

           

And for families looking to use their Norwegian during family game time, there is a Norwegian language Bananagrams version with the letters æ, ø, and å.

Or to help get the family outside, consider the Viking game of Kubb. It’s a lawn game where you try to knock your opponent’s blocks down followed by their king. All ages can enjoy this game.

Is there a girl in your midst you would appreciate a new addition to their doll collection? Consider a Norwegian Barbie from the Barbies of the World Collection.

                                    SCANDINAVIAN CHRISTMAS

You can’t have a true Scandinavian Christmas without proper lights, baked goods, and chocolate.

candelabra-karin-natural-7          Krumkake      Freia

Window candelabras are a popular sight in Norwegian windows during Christmas time and add a cozy feel to the dark days, and they are a beloved staple in my home, too, during the holiday season. A krumkake iron griddle will help families fulfill the traditional Norwegian Christmas custom of baking seven sorts of baked goods, one of which is a krumake, a rolled up waffle cookie. You can even buy some krumkake mix to go along with is. And of course, there’s nothing like some true Norwegian Freia milk chocolate to sweeten up the holiday season.

Keeping ChristmasFor families with a Norwegian background, they might enjoy the book Keeping Christmas: Yuletide Traditions in Norway and the New Land, which looks at Christmas traditions from Norway and Norwegian America. With “scores of accounts of ancient and modern Christmases, with recipes and photographs, this book reminds Norwegians and Norwegian Americans of their connections to each other and explains how their celebrations differ on this joyous family holiday” (book jacket). I have the book and it comes out every Christmas season. I read a different part of it every year and always learn something new and interesting.

SUBSCRIPTION TO THE NORWEGIAN AMERICAN

the-norwegian-americanAnd last but not least, for your family and friends with a Norwegian background, consider giving them a subscription to The Norwegian American, America’s only Norwegian newspaper. It has been “the voice of Norway in America” for 125 years. I always look forward to receiving this newspaper. I enjoy reading features about Norwegian happenings at home and abroad, Scandinavian food and recipes, history, and travel. I also often get book recommendations from the paper.

For many more of my favorite Norwegian and Scandinavian items, especially English translations of Norwegian books, please check out my online store.

Do you have suggestions for other gifts that would hit the spot with Norwegians and other Scandinavians? I would love to hear about them in the comments.

God jul!

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December 2016: Los Angeles Culture Challenge & Swedish Christmas Fair

december-2016December is always a busy time with the winter holidays approaching, but if you have some time left over, there’s plenty of special cultural events happening. Los Angeles is one of the most diverse metropolitan areas in the United States. I challenge you to take advantage of what Los Angeles has to offer and to discover the richness of where we live. Choose one or two events and mark your calendars, but please check suitability for family members and confirm dates and times before heading out.

Another of my favorite Scandinavian events happens this month, the Swedish Christmas Fair. It’s a busy, festive one-day affair which always leaves me with a cozy Christmas feeling. If you go, make sure to time your visit so that you are there for the Lucia pageant at 12pm or 3pm.

How will you explore the diverse richness of Los Angeles this month? Continue reading

Volunteering at Norwegian Church’s Christmas Bazaar 2016

volunteering

This year I switched things up and volunteered at the Norwegian Church’s Christmas Bazaar instead of just attending as a guest. My day was all about food which suited me perfectly.

For me, food has always been a main reason for going to the event. I come to eat foods I only eat once a year, to buy freshly baked goods from the bakery, and to stock up on foods and drinks for Christmas time. On this occasion, I was assigned to the kitchen and café, and that was an assignment I appreciated and enjoyed greatly.

My day started out with getting wienerpølser (Norwegian sausages) in a pot for simmering, stirring lapskaus (meat stew), and slicing geitost (goat cheese) for julebrød (sweet bread with raisins). Once the event officially began, I headed out to the café and served cake and sandwiches to eager guests. Continue reading