My 10 Favorite Books for Women in Translation Month #WITmonth

There’s no time like the present to consider reading a book or two by a woman in translation. August is Women in Translation Month (#WITMonth), an annual initiative to raise awareness of and promote women writers from around the world who write in languages other than English. With international travel limited due to the pandemic and the Olympics going on in Tokyo, why not do some armchair traveling to countries of interest through books by women in translation?

Every year I set aside August to read women in translation from outside Scandinavia (since I read plenty of them regularly). I create a stack of books I’m interested in reading and see what piques my interest most when the time comes for a new book. On my TBR pile for August are books that will transport me to Spain (Basque Country), France, Italy, Iran, Rwanda, and Thailand through the voices of female authors from the region. I usually get a head start in July and continue into the fall.

Are you interested in joining this year? Here are my 10 current favorite books by women in translation. As you might expect, the list is heavy on Scandinavian female authors, but there are some other gems tucked in there as well. Please share in the comments any books in translation by women that you’ve enjoyed. I’m especially looking for female authors from South America.


Kristin Lavransdatter 1: The Wreath by Sigrid Undset 🇳🇴
(Tr. from the Norwegian by Tiina Nunnally, published by Penguin Classics)

This is the first in an historical fiction trilogy set in medieval Norway.

I was surprised by how much I enjoyed this book! It was nothing like what I expected. Kristin is quite the rebel and the book seems quite risqué for its time (first published in 1920). Broken betrothals, premarital rendezvous, poison, suicide, and coverups – so unexpected. It was interesting to learn about life in medieval Norway, and the descriptions of the setting are especially beautiful. This first book is the story of how Kristin met and was wooed by the handsome Erlend, breaking up her betrothal to another man. The series continues with her marriage to Erlend and follows her as she raises seven sons. I enjoyed this book so much that I completed the trilogy in the next couple of years, but this was my favorite of the three. Make sure to read the translation by Tiina Nunnally.


Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata 🇯🇵
(Tr. from the Japanese by Ginny Tapley Takemori, published by Grove Press)

This is contemporary fiction set in Tokyo, Japan.

This book was a little gem — small, short, and heartwarming. I took a great liking to Keiko, a somewhat peculiar 36-year-old woman who’s been working part time at a convenience store in Tokyo for 18 years. Her whole being, both at the store and at home, is so attuned to the rhythms and needs of the store. Keiko thrives following the directives of the store manual and absorbing others’ dress, mannerisms, and speech. Despite her quirkiness, she has friends and is accepted and valued at her job. Also, I loved getting a glimpse into the Japanese culture through this convenience store and its workers.


Waiting for Tomorrow by Nathacha Appanah 🇫🇷
(Tr. from the French by Geoffrey Strachan, published by Graywolf Press)

This is contemporary fiction set in France by a Mauritian-French author.

Anita and Adam meet as students in Paris. She’s an immigrant from Mauritius and he’s from the French provinces. They both feel out of place but find comfort and love with each other. They move to the provinces, get married, and have a daughter. Life happens. She freelances for a local paper instead of writing the next great novel. He works at an architecture firm instead of devoting his life to painting. And then Adèle enters their life, resetting it in an unexpected way. It’s a short novel that packs a lot into its pages. It explores immigration, including undocumented immigrants; cultural differences in society and within a marriage; family and motherhood (stay-at-home vs working mothers), and ambitions. It’s a tragic story but beautifully written.


Love by Hanne Ørstavik 🇳🇴
(Tr. from the Norwegian by Martin Aitken, published by Archipelago)

This is contemporary fiction set in northern Norway.

This is the story of an 8-year-old boy and his mother who have recently moved to a remote village in northern Norway. They live together but lead totally separate lives. The story takes place one very cold winter night in the space of only a few hours. The boy is eagerly anticipating his birthday the next day, but his mother is wrapped up in her own world and desires. It alternates between the boy’s and the mother’s separate outings during the evening. What I thought might happen didn’t, and what I didn’t anticipate happened. It was a sad but beautiful story. At times it actually felt somewhat surreal.


The History of Bees: A Novel by Maja Lunde 🇳🇴
(Tr. from the Norwegian by Diane Oatley, published by Atria Books)

This is historical fiction set in England, contemporary fiction set in the USA, and dystopian fiction set in China all rolled into in one novel.

This is such an interestingly structured and thought-provoking book about humans’ relationship to bees as well as relationships and expectations between family members. It’s a look at the role of bees in the past, present, and future from the perspective of a family in each of those time periods, and over time their stories intersect. The first storyline takes place in England in the mid-1850s when beehives are being improved, the second one in the USA in 2007 when there is an increase in the number of colony collapse disorders happening, and the last one in China in 2098 when humans must hand-pollinate due to the total collapse of bees. As the book progresses, the reader begins to see how the three families’ stories intersect.

This is the first in Maja Lunde’s Climate Quartet. Next is The End of the Ocean which I also enjoyed, followed by The Last Wild Horses: A Novel (to be released in English February 15, 2022). The fourth book is still a work in progress.


Human Acts by Han Kang 🇰🇷
(Tr. from the Korean by Deborah Smith, published by Hogarth)

This is historical fiction set in South Korea.

This novel was about a horrific historical event I had never heard of before, the violent 1980 student uprising in Gwangju, South Korea. The story is told through chapters that are interconnected short stories. In the first chapter, which takes place in 1980, readers are introduced to several characters who then reappear in the next chapters over a period of 30 years. Interestingly, the chapters are either in first or second person with one chapter in third person. Be aware, Han Kang does not shy away from the gruesome details of this violent time, but at the same time, she shares examples of kindness and compassion too. (I have also read and enjoyed The Vegetarian, but I liked Human Acts better.)


The Nakano Thrift Shop by Hiromi Kawakami 🇯🇵
(Tr. from the Japanese by Allison Markin Powell, published by Europa Editions)

This is contemporary fiction set in Tokyo, Japan.

I thought this was going to contain some magical realism (since the cover I had originally seen has a woman flying into a subway train), but no, it was a down-to-earth look at the happenings and people in a neighborhood thrift shop in the suburbs of Tokyo. The main character, Hitomi, works the cash register. Her boss and the owner of the thrift shop is Mr. Nakano, a somewhat odd and mysterious person. His sister Masayo, an unmarried artist, is a regular presence in the store. And then there’s Takeo, the shy part-time co-worker who helps with pick-ups and on whom Hitomi has a crush. It’s an eclectic group of people, and I love a story with unlikely friendships. I also enjoyed getting a glimpse of everyday life in Japan.


Knots: Stories by Gunnhild Øyehaug 🇳🇴
(Tr. from the Norwegian by Kari Dickson, published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux)

This a collection of short stories set in Norway.

This collection of short stories is the author’s English language debut — 13 years after its initial Norwegian publication. The book is an eclectic collection of stories all of which explore the mind and thoughts of people in a variety of situations. Many are surreal; others are realistic. There is little action. They mostly deal with the characters’ consciousness. I was oddly transfixed by the stories. The book is small and slim, and the stories are short so I just kept turning the pages to see what creative and unique story would come next.

 


Quicksand by Malin Persson Giolito 🇸🇪
(Tr. from the Swedish by Rachel Willson-Broyles, published by Other Press)

This is contemporary fiction/crime fiction set in a suburb of Stockholm, Sweden.

The author takes us into the mind of 18-year-old Maja who’s on trial for her involvement in a school shooting in a wealthy suburb of Stockholm, Sweden, that left her boyfriend and best friend dead, along with others. We alternate between her time in the jail cell and in the courtroom along with flashbacks to her life leading up to the shooting. The book started a little slow, but as I got further into it, it was a page-turner that had me very eager to find out how it all could have come to this. Many timely issues to consider: school shootings, mental health, immigration, gun violence, wealth, class, parenting.

 


The Murmur of Bees by Sofía Segovia 🇲🇽
(Tr. from the Spanish by Simon Bruni, published by Amazon Crossing)

This is historical fiction with a touch of magical realism set in Mexico.

This is about an established landowning family in a small northern Mexican town in the early 1900s during the Mexican Revolution. An abandoned child covered in bees is discovered and then adopted by the family. This child, who is deformed and cannot speak and always accompanied by a swarm of bees, turns out to be a blessing for the family as they endure life in their little town with its human and natural challenges. It was a little slow to get going, but suddenly I was very absorbed in the story.

 

 


Special Mentions

Celestial Bodies by Jokha Alharthi
(Tr. from the Arabic by Marilyn Booth, published by Catapult)

This is a uniquely structured novel that follows three sisters who live in a village outside the capital city of Muscat in Oman. One sister marries after realizing she’ll never have the one she truly desires. Another sister marries out of obligation. And the third sister refuses to marry and instead waits for her beloved to return from Canada. The chapters jump between the first person perspective of the first sister’s husband and the third person perspective of various family and community members. It was hard to keep track of characters (grateful for the family tree at the beginning!) and time, but I was fascinated by the lives of these women in contemporary Oman, so different from what I’m used to or been exposed to in reading before. And I learned a bit about the history of the region which was interesting as well. This author has the special distinction of being the first female Omani novelist to be translated into English. The book won the International Booker Prize in 2019.


Tropic of Violence by Nathacha Appanah
(Tr. from the French by Geoffrey Strachen, published by Graywolf Press)

This book took me to a place in the world I’ve never been in my reading life, Department of Mayotte, a French island in the Indian Ocean between Mozambique and Madagascar. When Marie suddenly dies, her 14-year-old adopted son Moïse is left to fend for himself. He ends up involved with a gang in the largest slum on the island. The book explores hard issues – illegal immigration, poverty, race, class, youth gangs, and violence – through the perspectives of not only Marie and Moïse, but also the gang leader, a police officer, and an aid worker. This was a tough read, not a feel good book at all, but definitely an eye-opening and thought-provoking reading experience about a new-to-me part of the world, exactly why I like participating in #WITMonth.


Dødevaskeren (The Dead Washer) by Sara Omar
(Tr. from the Danish to the Norwegian by Hilde Rød-Larsen, published by Aschehoug)

This book is unfortunately not translated into English yet, but I include it on this list for anyone who can read Danish, Norwegian, Swedish, French, or any other language it might already be translated into. It’s an amazing and heartbreaking novel dealing with the oppression of Muslim women, in particular in the Kurdistan region of Iraq. The book is about a girl named Frmesk born in Kurdistan in 1986. She is unwanted by her father because she’s a girl. She is sent to live with her mother’s parents because the mother is afraid for the baby’s life if she stays at home. Her grandparents are very kind, loving, open-minded “parents” to Frmesk in a world where the Koran rules and women’s rights and freedoms are non-existent. The story moves between Frmesk’s life as a young child in her grandparents’ household and Frmesk’s life in Denmark 30 years later when she’s alone in a hospital bed for unidentified procedures. Real events, such as the 1988 Halabja chemical attack, are included in the story. It was an extremely engrossing and engaging story despite the difficult subject material. Sara Omar’s second book, Skyggedanseren (The Shadow Dancer), a follow-up to the first, also made a very strong impression on me.


Have I persuaded you to pick up a book by a woman in translation?

By the way, if you’re interested in snagging some Scandinavian ebooks at a great discount, many by Scandinavian female authors, check out my Scandinavian Ebook Deals. Some offers stay around for a long time, others only a short period. If anything looks intriguing, grab it before it’s gone.

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What I’ve Been Reading Lately (September 2020)

My unintentional travel around the world via books continued in September with visits to China, Norway, and Rwanda, along with seven neighboring African countries.

My reading also continued to be influenced by the opportunity to hear authors talk about their work. The Seven Doors written by Agnes Ravatn and translated from the Norwegian by Rosie Hedger jumped to the top of my TBR pile when I learned that Orenda Books, the English publisher, was hosting an online launch event with the author and translator (paperback was published September 17, 2020, in the United Kingdom). I had enjoyed Ravatn’s previous English release, The Bird Tribunal, and was curious about this one. It’s always interesting to get some insight into the behind-the-scenes of the writing and translating processes, and their discussion did not disappoint. (Are you curious about other virtual bookish events, in particular related to Nordic authors? Check out my Virtual Nordic Events for October 2020.)

Here are my latest book experiences. What have you been reading lately?


The Girl Who Smiled Beads: A Story of War and What Comes After by Clemantine Wamariya and Elizabeth Weil

This book first came on my radar when I saw it was a Book of the Month selection in April 2018. I didn’t pick it then, but I did buy it earlier this year when I had some ebook credit. It hadn’t occurred to me that it would be appropriate for a 13-year-old so it became a must-read for me this summer when it turned up as my 8th grader’s required reading for school.

Clemantine is an inspiring woman. She endured tremendous loss and hardship when, at the age of 6, she and her 15-year-old sister Claire fled from their family in Rwanda in 1994 due to civil war and the impending genocide. They spent 6 years traveling between 7 African countries trying to find safety and meet their basic needs — and later the needs of Claire’s young children. At age 12, Clemantine and her sister were granted asylum in the United States and began new lives in Chicago. The story of the two sisters is heartbreaking and eye-opening and important to be heard. However, it was told in a vacuum. There was little context provided about what was going on in the country they left and the countries in which they sought refuge. I found the first half of the book the most interesting. It alternated between Clemantine and Claire’s experiences in Africa and their new lives in Chicago. The second half when Claire was at college and beyond was less engaging. Even though the book felt a bit disjointed, I appreciated how it opened my eyes to a world event I knew little about. Now on my radar is the movie Hotel Rwanda.

Reading Challenges:


The Three-Body Problem by Cixin Liu
(Translated from the Chinese by Ken Liu, narrated by Luke Daniels)

This award-winning science fiction novel by “China’s most beloved science fiction author” was certainly an interesting listening experience. It was totally outside my comfort zone (not just science fiction, but also alien encounter book!) and way above my head (a lot of complicated science that I didn’t understand), yet the plot and structure were engaging and intriguing enough to carry me along so that I finished the book. It was a complex and sophisticated book with many layers and made for a good book club discussion. This book is the first in a trilogy, and Netflix recently bought the rights to the trilogy for an adaptation into a series. I’m not up for the rest of the trilogy, but I may give the Netflix adaptation a try due to curiosity.

Reading Challenges:


The Seven Doors by Agnes Ravatn
(Translated from the Norwegian by Rosie Hedger)

This was a very enjoyable, slow-burning psychological thriller that takes place in contemporary Bergen on the west coast of Norway over the course of about a month and a half during winter. Nina, a middle aged university literature professor, is in a bit of a mid-life crisis. She questions the importance of her profession, is going through a forced sale of her home, and has a somewhat strained relationship with her adult daughter. In the middle of all this, the tenant of one of their properties suddenly goes missing. When the police hit a dead end, Nina takes on investigating the mystery herself due to a sense of guilt that a recent visit by her and her daughter had something to do with the disappearance. I enjoyed the setting, in particular the visits to a small nearby island, and I was intrigued by the mystery and slow reveal of details surrounding the missing tenant. The tension grew as the story progressed and even though I had an inkling about the perpetrator as the end neared, the ending itself caught me off-guard but in a satisfying way.

Reading Challenges:


What have you been reading lately?

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Virtual Scandinavian Events for September 2020

One silver lining of the pandemic is that organizations are pivoting to online events allowing interested folk from all over to attend. I have certainly taken advantage of that in the past few months and look forward to continuing.

Here are some Scandinavian virtual events and entertainment (plus some Icelandic and Finnish) that have popped up on my radar for the fall. I will continue to add events as I learn of them.

If you are interested in Nordic literature or Scandinavian TV and film, scroll to the end for information on a Nordic Book Club now available online and Scandinavian shows recently added to Netflix.


Virtual Cinema: Out Stealing Horses (Norway) – Ongoing

Scandinavia House in New York, NY, is hosting a virtual cinema presentation of Out Stealing Horses, a film based on the award-winning novel by Norwegian author Per Petterson. Immediately following the film there will be a pre-recorded discussion between Stellan Skarsgård and filmmaker Hans Petter Moland. Half of proceeds will go to support American-Scandinavian Foundation and Scandinavia House. For more information and to purchase access, visit Scandinavia House’s Facebook event page. An end date has not yet been set for film screenings.

Virtual Cinema: A White, White Day (Iceland) – Ongoing

Scandinavia House in New York, NY, is also hosting a virtual cinema presentation of the hit Icelandic film A White, White Day with Film Movement. A White, White Day is an emotionally complex exploration of the ravages of loss set across the hypnotic landscape of Iceland. Half of proceeds will go to support American-Scandinavian Foundation and Scandinavia House. For more information and to purchase access, visit Scandinavia House’s Facebook event page. An end date has not yet been set for film screenings.

October Family Norwegian Language Adventure – Friluftsliv
(With Vesterheim Folk Art School, Decorah, Iowa)

Join this adventure anytime between September 12 and September 21. The adventure starts October 1 and will focus on friluftsliv, the Norwegian concept of embracing outdoor living. “Join us for this family-fun outdoor adventure and learn some Norwegian language along the way! Your “family” could be any combination of adult or adults and child or children, all who are ready to have fun and learn some norsk are welcome! Through hands-on activities, fun crafts, light hearted games and short videos, you and your family will learn and practice your new Norwegian skills both indoors and outside. A kit will be delivered right to your home containing supplies for these language activities, a helpful reference sheet for all the new words and expressions you will be learning, a fun craft, and a yummy snack.” These activities are designed for families with children ages 5-15. Click here for more information and to sign up.

Baldishol: A Medieval Norwegian Tapestry Inspires Contemporary Textiles
(Virtual Exhibit at Norway House, Minneapolis, MN)

The medieval Baldishol tapestry from 1180 is the oldest known Norwegian tapestry and one of the oldest in Europe and is a national treasure familiar to most Norwegians. This exhibit features 26 works by local, national, and international fiber artists who draw inspiration from the Baldishol. Enjoy the Baldishol exhibit, along with accompanying artist statements and bios, in this virtual exhibit.

Virtual Book Talk: The Family Clause by Jonas Hassen Khemiri (September 9)

This online event is hosted by ASF (American-Scandinavian Foundation) and Scandinavia House in New York, NY. “Jonas Hassen Khemiri, the acclaimed author of Montecore, joins us for a Virtual Talk to discuss The Family Clause, a novel about a family on the verge of collapse, which will be released in English translation beginning on August 25.” For more information and to register, visit Scandinavia House’s event page.

Virtual Nordic Cooking with Morten Sohlberg: Zucchini & Squash (September 10)

This online event is hosted by ASF (American-Scandinavian Foundation) and Scandinavia House in New York, NY. “Join us for a special Nordic virtual cooking event! Morten Sohlberg, the chef and owner of Smörgås Chef restaurant at Scandinavia House, will present an online demo of making one of his favorite late summer dishes — roasted zucchini and squash coated with ricotta, parmesan, and various herbs and spices.” This event will take place as a YouTube Premiere on Thursday, September 10, at 6 p.m. ET at the link: https://bit.ly/2GeVGvv.

ABBA Salute Concert Online! (September 13, 2:00 p.m. PT)

“ABBA Salute is quite literally the most accurate tribute band on the planet. With painstaking attention to detail, they’ve recreated an ABBA experience that comes to life in a Las Vegas style show. Join the Swedish American Museum in Chicago and Vasa Park for a special online concert that is free but we do appreciate donations to help us through this time.” For more information and to get the link for the event, click here.

Dual Citizenship Webinar (September 15, 12:00 p.m. CT)

Join Norwegian Honorary Consulate General, Minneapolis for a free webinar to learn about Norway’s new dual citizenship law and how it may affect you. Topics include reinstatement of former Norwegian citizenship, how to apply for US citizenship, and more. The presentation will conclude with a Q & A session. Questions must be submitted in advance. For more information and to register, click here.

Equity, Inclusion, and Immigration in the Nordic Countries (September 15)

This online event is hosted by ASF (American-Scandinavian Foundation) and Scandinavia House in New York, NY. “Nordic countries are often seen as models of equity, equality, and social justice. But what are the ways that the Nordic countries are approaching the inequalities that they still face? In this virtual panel, four distinguished guests — Swedish hip-hop artist Jason “Timbuktu” Diakité, Swedish author Jonas Hassen Khemiri, Danish author Simon Pasternak, and Swedish-Ethiopian chef and restaurateur Marcus Samuelsson — will join us for a discussion on recent cultural contributions and voices who continue to discuss inequality both in the Nordic countries and the U.S.”

Vista Viking Festival Online (September 19 & 20)

This year, experience Vista Viking Festival Online. “We are living in a new age, and we are not able to gather this year. So we are expanding our virtual territories beyond the festival gates. Bringing our family closer to yours. Set sail with us online, September 19 & 20, 2020.”

Sweden’s Response to the Coronavirus with Lars Trägårdh (September 23)

American-Scandinavian Foundation invites you to a follow-up online discussion with Swedish historian, author and social commentator Lars Trägårdh as he discusses the current situation in Sweden in controlling the coronavirus. Sweden adopted a controversial approach to the pandemic, avoiding mandatory lock-down and instead stressing voluntary distancing and keeping the country open, most importantly pre- and primary schools. Initially Sweden experienced higher numbers of infection and death rate than many of their Nordic counterparts; since June, however, both infection and mortality rates are radically down. Hear how this strategy has evolved in Sweden as Europe at large is experiencing, or bracing for, a second wave.

Launch Event for Agnes Ravatn’s The Seven Doors (September 23, 7:00 p.m. UK)

“To celebrate the launch of Agnes Ravatn’s exquisitely written psychological thriller The Seven Doors, Orenda Books is delighted to present Tartan Noir author Michael J. Malone interviewing critically acclaimed Norwegian author Agnes Ravatn and her translator, Rosie Hedger.” The event is free and will take place on Zoom, For more information and how to get the link, visit Orenda Books’ event page.

Vesterheim Bokprat (Book Group) to Discuss The Nordic Theory of Everything (September 24, 7:00 p.m. CT)

Dr. Maren Johnson, Luther College’s Associate Professor of Nordic Studies and Torgerson Center for Nordic Studies Director, facilitates a monthly bokprat discussing Scandinavian authors and Scandinavian life. Join on Thursday, September 24, at 7:00 p.m. CDT to discuss Finnish journalist Anu Partanen’s The Nordic Theory of Everything. Read more about the event and register here.

Virtual Panel — Danish Authors You Should Know (September 29, 2:00 p.m. ET)

Scandinavia House’s new series Nordic Authors You Should Know begins with a focus on Danish literature with Shadi Angelina Bazeghi, Jonas Eika, Maja Lee Langvad, Dorthe Nors, and Ursula Andkjær Olsen, moderated by author and translator Katrine Øgaard Jensen. For more information, visit Scandinavia House’s page.

Policing & Police Reform in the Nordic Countries: Virtual Panel (September 30, 1:00 p.m. ET)

This virtual panel is hosted by ASF + Scandinavia House. “In contrast to the United States, the Nordic countries have their own unique approaches to law enforcement that have evolved out of histories with different racial and economic politics. As calls for police reform continue to be debated at every level of government in the U.S., three panelists from the Nordic countries join us to discuss policing and police reform in those countries: Lars Holmberg (Professor of Law, JUR Centre for Interdisciplinary Studies of Law, University of Copenhagen), Kimmo Himberg (Senior Researcher, the Police University College, Tampere, Finland), and Margrét Valdimarsdóttir (Assistant Professor of Police Science at the University of Akureyri).”

Politics & Prose Live! Vigdis Hjorth | Long Live the Post Horn! with Sheila Heti (September 30, 4:00 p.m. ET)

Hosted by Politics and Prose Bookstore in Washington, D.C., this event is presented in partnership with the Royal Norwegian Embassy. Norwegian author Vigdis Hjorth sits down with fellow author Sheila Heti to discuss her new novel, Long Live the Post Horn! For more information and to register for this free event, click here.


Online Nordic Book Club at Scandinavia House in New York, NY

The Nordic Book Club at Scandinavia House in New York, NY, selects novels from some of the best Nordic literary voices. It now meets bi-weekly online. Here are their upcoming meetings. Click the dates for more information and to register.

  • September 8: The Summer House by Philip Teir (translated from the Swedish by Tiina Nunnally)
  • September 22: Miss Iceland by Auður Ava Ólafsdóttir (translated from the Icelandic by Brian FitzGibbon)
  • October 6: The Family Clause by Jonas Hassen Khemiri (translated from the Swedish by Alice Menzies)
  • October 20: The Bell in the Lake by Lars Mytting (translated from the Norwegian by Deborah Dawkin)
  • November 3: Palm Beach Finland by Antti Tuomainen (translated from the Finnish by David Hackston)
  • November 17: Companions by Christina Hesselholdt (translated from the Danish by Paul Russell Garrett)

Borderless Book Club 

In response to the Covid-19 crisis and the lockdown order, Peirene Press, in collaboration with several other small presses, created the Borderless Book Club. Meetings are held on Thursday evenings at 8:00 p.m. UK time via Zoom. Participation is free. They exclusively discuss translated literature. For more information and to view the current fall program and to access previous meetings (which includes books by Scandinavian authors), visit Borderless Book Club.


New to Netflix: Scandinavian Movies & TV Shows

Borgen (Seasons 1-3) – A Danish political thriller, available in your preferred audio language. Netflix description: As Denmark prepares for parliamentary elections, Moderate Party leader Birgitte Nyborg makes a shocking move with surprising results.

Rita (2020, Season 5 Available) – A Danish comedy in Danish with English subtitles. Netflix description: Independent, outspoken and adored by her students, schoolteacher Rita fares less well with adults in this comedy-drama from Denmark.

Young Wallander (New, Season 1) – A Netflix original series in English based on the Swedish and British series Wallander. Netflix description: An incendiary hate crime stirs civil unrest, fast-tracking rookie cop Kurt Wallander to detective in this origin story for the popular character.

For more Scandinavian films and TV shows:


I hope you found something of interest for the months ahead. Feel free to reach out to me if you have events to share.

Reading Lately (July 2019): Reading Challenges Progress & #WITMonth Plans  

July was a good reading month! I checked off new prompts for both my Scandinavian reading and Reading Women challenges. Also, I had my first 5-star read of the year (I’m stingy with my stars!) and got a head start on Women in Translation Month (#WITMonth) which happens in August.

I always look forward to participating in Women in Translation Month, a monthlong initiative to promote women writers from around the world who write in languages other than English. Since I read many Scandinavian female authors throughout the year, I focus on writers from other countries and continents this month. On my TBR pile for the month are authors from Oman, Thailand, Japan, South Korea, Iran, Kurdistan, Italy, and France. We’ll see how many I manage to read. My effort will most likely continue into September and beyond with this particular stack.

My TBR Pile for #WITMonth 2019

What have you been reading lately? Are you participating in #WITMonth?


The Madonna of Notre Dame by Alexis Ragougneau

(Translated from the French by Katherine Gregor)

I always like to read a book set where I’m visiting, and this book popped up on my Instagram feed just as we were planning our summer trip which included Paris. It seemed like the perfect pick with its setting of Notre Dame Cathedral considering we wouldn’t be able to enter due to the fire that ravaged it in the spring. The book didn’t disappoint. It was a murder mystery that not only took me into dark corners of the cathedral, but also to greater Paris. I got to know a whole slew of French characters – some more flattering than others – and be a part of a French community as it tried to make sense of this murder. It’s not your typical police procedural as it’s a priest who takes particular interest in the case and is crucial in solving the crime. It also doesn’t show a glamorous or touristy Paris but instead a city that struggles with good and evil just like other cities.

Reading Challenges: 


The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller

This book had long been on my radar and we finally read it for book club this summer. I knew it was a myth retelling, but I thought it was going to be a contemporary retelling and not actually take me back to the real people, places, and events of Greek mythology. It was a welcomed surprise once I understood that I didn’t need to remember anything from my school days of learning about it and I could just read and enjoy. It’s a love story – another surprise to me – between the great warrior Achilles and his companion Patroclus and then a war story as the Trojan War occurs. The book was so different from what I expected or from anything I had read recently; it was a fun escape. I enjoyed getting this other perspective on these well-known mythological people and events, and I look forward to reading Circe as well sometime soon.

Reading Challenges:


Hotel Silence by Auður Ava Ólafsdóttir

(Translated from the Icelandic by Brian FitzGibbon)

I got a head start on Women in Translation Month (#WITMonth) happening in August. Since this book was winner of both the Icelandic Literary Prize (2016) and Nordic Council Literature Prize (2018), I figured Auður Ava Ólafsdóttir was a good Icelandic female author to add to my repertoire of Nordic literature. It was a quiet and enjoyable story about an almost 50-year old man who feels his life has lost meaning after a recent divorce during which he also learned that his daughter is actually not his own. He travels to an unnamed war-torn country by the sea with the intent to end his life, but instead he begins to find new purpose. What was supposed to be only a few days visit with no return turns into a weeks-long stay. It’s a moving and heartwarming story of unlikely friendships as he gets to know people who have suffered much more than him and second chances both for him and the people he helps. (Thanks to NetGalley and Grove Atlantic for providing me with a free copy of this book!)

Reading Challenges:


The Night Tiger by Yangsze Choo

My first 5-star read of the year! This book captivated me from the beginning. It’s a mystery that takes place in the British colony of Malaya (Malaysia) in the 1930s. The book alternates between the story of a Chinese houseboy on the hunt for his former master’s severed finger (which he needs to find within 49 days of the master’s death so his soul can rest) and a Malaysian girl who comes across a severed finger and sets out to find out where it came from. Slowly but surely the storylines merge. I was equally engrossed in both characters and their quests. I was fascinated by the setting and cultures depicted and especially enjoyed how Malaysian and Chinese folklore and superstition were intertwined throughout. I listened to the audiobook narrated by the author herself which was fantastic.

Reading Challenges:


How’s your reading life been lately?

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What I’m Thinking of Reading for 2019 #ScandiReadingChallenge

The 2019 Scandinavian Reading Challenge is underway! Today I’m sharing books I’m thinking of reading for each of the prompts in the challenge.

I’m listing more than one book for each prompt. I want to give myself some choice depending on mood, availability, and book club reads and also give readers some ideas for their own reading. Even though a book may be listed under more than one prompt, I will only count it for one. That’s just my personal rule for this particular challenge. You do whatever works for you. (For other reading challenges, I may double up and count a book for more than one prompt.)

If you would still like to join, it’s not too late. It won’t be too late until the year is over. Just visit 2019 Scandinavian Reading Challenge and let me know in the comments there.

Do you need more ideas of books to read? Ask in the comments or send me an email and I’ll see what I can suggest. I’ve read many that would be good options.

Disclaimer: AVikingInLA.com 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. Any and all click-thrus are much appreciated as they help bring revenue to keep this site going. Thank you!

Now, without further ado…

A book set in a Scandinavian capital:

A Nordic Noir novel:

  • The Legacy: A Thriller (Children’s House Book 1) by Yrsa Sigurdardottir (tr. from the Icelandic by Victoria Cribb)
  • Blind Goddess (Hanne Wilhelmsen Book 1) by Anne Holt (tr. from the Norwegian by Tom Geddes)
  • The Keeper of Lost Causes (The First Department Q Novel) by Jussi Adler-Olsen (tr. from the Danish by Lisa Hartford)
  • The Redbreast by Jo Nesbø (tr. from the Norwegian by Don Bartlett)
  • I’m Traveling Alone by Samuel Bjork (tr. from the Norwegian by Charlotte Barslund)

A Scandinavian book published in the last year (either in original language or in translation):

  • Wait, Blink: A Novel by Gunnhild Øyehaug (tr. from the Norwegian by Kari Dickson) – June 2018
  • The Boy at the Door by Alex Dahl
  • Dødevaskeren (Dead Washer) by Sara Omar (Danish-Kurdish) – 2018 in Norwegian (not yet available in English)

A book by a non-native Scandinavian author:

  • Demian Vitanza (Norwegian/Italian) – This Life or the Next: A Novel (tr. Tanya Thresher)
  • Berit Ellingsen (Korean-Norwegian) – Not Dark Yet
  • Sara Omar (Danish-Kurdish) – Dead Washer (not yet available in English)

A nonfiction book about Scandinavian culture:

A winner of the Nordic Council Literature Prize:

A historical fiction book set in Scandinavia:

A Scandinavian book recommended or gifted to you:

  • Blå (Blue) by Maja Lunde (not yet available in English)
  • En moderne familie (A Modern Family) by Helga Flatland (English translation coming April 13, 2019)
  • Vær snill med dyrene (Be Kind to the Animals) by Monica Isakstuen (not yet available in English)

A Scandinavian book published before you were born:

A book written by a non-Scandinavian set in Scandinavia:

A Scandinavian book you’ve been meaning to read:

A book from a favorite or unread category from last year’s reading challenge:

  • This one I’ll probably decide later in the year when I see what I’ve already read and what I still want to read, but I’m considering a crime novel by a female author, another book about Scandinavia during WWII, or an immigrant story.

If you’re participating in the challenge, I’d love to read in the comments what books you’re considering to read. And if you have suggestions for me, I’d love to hear those, too!

Join the 2019 Scandinavian Reading Challenge!

I invite you to join the 2019 Scandinavian Reading Challenge, a reading challenge that focuses on the Scandinavian countries of Norway, Sweden, and Denmark.

There are 12 prompts. I realize not everyone is as much of a Scandinavian enthusiast as me, so choose to participate at whatever level suits you: a book a month, one book every other month, or even just a couple of books in the upcoming months. I welcome all levels of participation!

New this year… There will be a Scandinavian-themed prize (something edible or readable) for a participant at the end! Each book you read for a prompt qualifies for a chance to win. Just take a picture of your list with whatever books you’ve read and email it to me by January 1, 2020, to enter the drawing.

Visit the page 2019 Scandinavian Reading Challenge to see the 12 prompts and to download a printable PDF to keep track of your reading.

I will make suggestions for the prompts as the year progresses. I would love to hear what books you choose to read as well. If you’re not already a subscriber to my blog, subscribe now so you’ll receive my Reading Lately posts which will include #ScandiReadingChallenge ideas. Also, follow me on Instagram at @AVikingInLA for reading ideas (among other things).

I hope you’ll join me for some Scandinavian reading this year. Share your intention to participate in the comments below, in an email, in a blog post (don’t forget to share with me!), or on social media using the hashtag #ScandiReadingChallenge. I look forward to seeing your progress and book ideas along the way!

Holiday Gift Ideas for Scandinavians at Heart

It’s that time of year again when we all welcome gift ideas for friends and family in our lives. Do you have some Scandinavian enthusiasts on your gift list? Here are some gift ideas that might be of interest. If books are on your gift list, read on to find out how to save on physical books at Amazon.

Recently Released Scandinavian Cookbooks

This year has seen the release of some notable Scandinavian cookbooks. Buy now and save $5 when you spend $20+ in physical books sold and shipped by Amazon by using code GIFTBOOK18 (expires Friday, December 21, 11:59 p.m. PT).

                  

Nevada Berg is an American transplant to Norway. She lives on a mountain farm with her Norwegian husband and son. She has a beautiful blog, North Wild Kitchen, that I follow and now the recently released cookbook North Wild Kitchen: Home Cooking from the Heart of Norway, which has been selected as one of the New York Times Best Cookbooks of Fall 2018.

Magnus Nilsson is a Swedish chef who is head chef at the famed restaurant Fäviken in Sweden. His 2015 documentary cookbook, The Nordic Cookbook, was very well received, and his newest cookbook, The Nordic Baking Book, is not to be missed. It contains 450 recipes for home bakers chosen from across the Nordic region — Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Faroe Islands, and Greenland. Watch Magnus Nilsson introduce The Nordic Baking Book.

                    

Rene Redzepi is a Danish chef and co-owner of the world renowned restaurant Noma in Copenhagen. David Zilber is the chef who runs the restaurant’s acclaimed fermentation lab. At Noma, named the world’s best restaurant four times, every dish includes some form of fermentation. Fermentation is one of the foundations behind Noma’s extraordinary flavor profiles. This cookbook has also been named one of the New York Times Best Cookbooks of Fall 2018.

Anyone who has ever been in Scandinavia in December will know that Scandinavians really love Christmas. From huddling up in candlelit snowed-in cottages to consuming gløgg at every opportunity, Christmas is peak-hygge season all over Norway, Sweden, and Denmark. Bronte Aurell of The ScandiKitchen Café in London shows how to celebrate Christmas Scandi-style by sharing her delicious recipes and family traditions.

Books & Reading

Books are always a wonderful gift. Are you looking for gifts for young kids, tweens, and teens? For books relating to Norwegian culture and history, take a look at my Book List: Norwegian History and Culture. Or see Book List: Christmas in Scandinavia for seasonal books the whole family will enjoy. But otherwise here are some suggestions for the adult readers in your life.

Limited time offer: Buy now and save $5 when you spend $20+ in physical books sold and shipped by Amazon by using code GIFTBOOK18 (expires Friday, December 21, 11:59 p.m. PT).

    

  

Household Items

   

Personal Gifts

Family Entertainment

                            

Music

 

This collection of solo piano music was inspired by the Scottish musician’s journey along Norway’s ancient pilgrimage route from Oslo to Trondheim. You can read more about the musician and his journey at The Norwegian American and sample his music.

Aurora is an up-and-coming singer-songwriter from Bergen, Norway. Her music is unique pop — emotional and dreamy. In the new year, she will perform in Vancouver, Seattle, Portland, San Francisco, Los Angeles, San Diego, Phoenix, Denver, Minneapolis, Chicago, Toronto, Montreal, Toronto, Boston, Brooklyn, Philadelphia, and Washington DC.

Norwegian Pride

    

I hope you’ve found some gift ideas here. I’d love to hear if any of these make it to your friends and family. I wish you a wonderful holiday season!

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Reading Lately: Wrapping Up #WITmonth (September 2018)

August was Women in Translation Month (#WITmonth) so I focused primarily on reading books in translation by women. Since I often read books by Scandinavian authors, I wanted to venture outside my comfort zone for #WITmonth. I started off with South Korea’s The Vegetarian by Han Kang (see last month’s write-up) and continued with books from France and Japan. Since I’ve already fulfilled the reading challenge prompt “a book in translation” many times over, I made little progress on my reading challenges but loved the opportunity to continue my summer travels through books.

Once again, I’m joining other readers at Modern Mrs. Darcy’s Quick Lit to share short and sweet reviews of what we’ve been reading lately.


Waiting for Tomorrow by Nathacha Appanah

(Translated from the French by Geoffrey Strachan)

Anita and Adam meet as students in Paris. She’s an immigrant from Mauritius and he’s from the French provinces. They both feel out of place but find comfort and love with each other. They move to the provinces, get married, and have a daughter. Life happens. She freelances for a local paper instead of writing the next great novel. He works at an architecture firm instead of devoting his life to painting. And then Adèle enters their life resetting it in an unexpected way.

I really enjoyed this book. It’s a short novel but packs a lot into its pages. It explores immigration, including undocumented immigrants; cultural differences in society and within a marriage; family and motherhood (stay-at-home vs working mothers), and ambitions. It’s a tragic story but beautifully written. The characters and setting are described carefully and vividly.


The Nakano Thrift Shop by Hiromi Kawakami

(Translated from the Japanese by Allison Markin Powell)

I thought this was going to contain some magical realism (since the cover I had originally seen has a woman flying into a subway train), but no, it was a down-to-earth look at the happenings and people in a neighborhood thrift shop in the suburbs of Tokyo. The main character, Hitomi, works the cash register. Her boss and the owner of the thrift shop is Mr. Nakano, a somewhat odd and mysterious person. His sister Masayo, an unmarried artist, is a regular presence in the store. And then there’s Takeo, the shy part-time co-worker who helps with pick-ups and on whom Hitomi has a crush. It’s an eclectic group of people, and I love a story with unlikely friendships. I also enjoyed getting a glimpse of everyday life in Japan.


Home of the Brave by Katherine Applegate

This is a middle grade novel-in-verse about a refugee boy from Sudan who resettles in Minnesota during wintertime. I was struck by how timely this book still is. It was first published in 2007, but the issue of refugees in America is still such a pertinent one. The book is entertaining and heartfelt. I chuckled at some parts and teared up at others. I admired Kek, the main character. He has a very positive way of looking at and dealing with life, especially considering what he has experienced. The author does not gloss over what Kek experienced in Sudan but presents it in a suitable way for middle graders. As an adult, I thought things may have fallen into place a little too easily for Kek in Minnesota, but then again, it is a middle grade book.


What have you been reading lately?

 

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September 2018 Los Angeles Culture Challenge: Much to offer for Scandinavian enthusiasts!

Just because the lazy days of summer are over doesn’t mean you can’t seize the opportunity to do something new! September offers many opportunities to enjoy some special multicultural events or explore new-to-you areas. And Scandinavian enthusiasts in particular are in for a treat.

One particular favorite LA event, CicLAvia, returns at the end of this month on Sunday, September 30. But this is not a regular CicLAvia event; it’s a special eight-mile street party to celebrate the LA Phil’s centennial season. The route goes between Walt Disney Concert Hall in Downtown LA and the Hollywood Bowl, and it will showcase LA’s creative spirit with 1800 musicians, artists, and dancers coming together to perform at the six hubs and along the route. It even includes a free concert at the Hollywood Bowl in the evening (concert details and ticket information here). Celebrate LA!: LA Phil 100 x CicLAvia looks to be an event not to be missed.

For Scandinavian enthusiasts, September has much to offer!

Not only are there two special Scandinavian festivals going on this month, but also Norwegian film, music, and an author are making their way to Los Angeles.

        

Neither of the two festivals are in the local Los Angeles area, but both could make for interesting excursions out of town. During the weekend of September 14 to 16, Solvang in Santa Barbara County celebrates its Danish heritage with the 82nd annual Solvang Danish Days festival. The following weekend, September 22 and 23, you can experience all things Viking and Scandinavian at the Vista Viking Festival in San Diego County.

      

Norwegian thriller “Revenge” by writer-director Kjersti Steinsbø opens August 31 and runs through September 6 at Laemmle Music Hall in Beverly Hills. Using a false identity, Rebekka sets out to confront the man with whom she shares a dark secret about the death of her sister. She must face the consequences of her actions and decide how far she will to go to seek revenge. It is in Norwegian with English subtitles. The LA Times says, “Come for the chills, stay for the view…

Wardruna, a Norwegian music group, is coming to The Theatre at Ace Hotel in Downtown LA on Friday, September 14. Their music has been featured in the History Channel series “Vikings.” Although Wardruna’s music shares characteristics with music typically labeled as folk, world, and/or ambient, none of these genres really describes their unique style. It truly must be experienced. And now’s your chance! Buy tickets here OR enter my giveaway for a pair of tickets!

Finally, Norwegian author Karl Ove Knausgård will be in town to discuss My Struggle: Book 6the long awaited final book in the My Struggle series. He will make two appearances. The first one is Saturday, September 22, at Skylight Books in Los Feliz. The second one on Sunday, September 23, at Aratani Theatre of the Japanese American Cultural & Community Center in Downtown LA.

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

World Cup 2018: Time for Some Literary Connections!

World Cup season is the perfect time to make some literary connections with the countries playing! Lists have been published recommending books by authors from each of the World Cup countries. There have also been daily literary World Cup matches where participating countries’ books or authors have been matched against each other to see which book/author readers like best. Check out #literaryworldcup on Twitter for the latest match-ups and results.

Sadly, neither Norway nor the USA made it to the World Cup this year, but Scandinavian enthusiasts could still root for Sweden and Denmark and their Nordic cousin Iceland. Sweden and Denmark moved on to the knockout Round of 16. Good luck to them!

I thought I’d consolidate titles recommended around the Internet from the Nordic countries of Denmark, Sweden, and Iceland. It’s interesting to see which books and authors are repeated. Make sure to click the links to the sources to see suggestions for all World Cup countries. Continue reading