What I’ve Been Reading Lately (February 2022) & Reading Challenges Update

Once again I’m joining Modern Mrs Darcy’s Quick Lit where we share short and sweet reviews of what we’ve been reading lately. I always get reading ideas from there and hope to return the favor here.

2022 Scandinavian Reading Challenge Update: I finished Roy Jacobsen’s The Unseen for the 1900s/1910s prompt (but it actually goes into 1920s as well) and I completed The Assistant, the historical fiction thriller by Kjell Ola Dahl, for the 1920s (which takes place in 1938 as well). I’m now moving on to the 1930s with Chasing the Light: A Novel of Antarctica by Jesse Blackadder for a slightly different Norwegian history reading experience. This one takes me away from Norway, but it keeps me in an arena where Norway still plays a role, whaling in the Antarctic.

For details on the reading challenge and insight into the past, current, and next decades, along with a few reading ideas, visit 2022 Scandinavian Reading Challenge.

What have you been reading lately?

The Yield: A Novel by Tara June Winch

This was not the easiest book to get into, but I’m glad I stuck with it because suddenly (at about 25%) it all began to fall into place and ended up being a very rewarding reading experience. I started by listening to it, but I had a hard time following the story with its three narratives. I switched to the ebook and that made a huge difference. I did not have any background knowledge for this book, not about Australia in general and definitely not Australian indigenous history in particular, which probably hindered my comprehension at the beginning also. I thought the structure of the book with the dictionary by the grandfather, the letter written by the missionary, and the narrative of the granddaughter returning to her homeland for her grandfather’s funeral worked very well together. I really enjoyed seeing how it all came together by the end and it opened my eyes to a whole new chapter in world history, in this case effects of the British colonization of Australia.

In Every Mirror She’s Black: A Novel by Lolá Ákínmádé Åkerström
(Narrated by Rosemarie Akwafo and Sara Powell)

I was intrigued by the premise of this novel, three very different Black women whose lives unexpectedly intersect via a very rich, white man in Stockholm, Sweden. One is a Nigerian-American top marketing executive in the United States, another is an American model-turned-flight-attendant flying trans-Atlantic flights, and the third is a Somali refugee in Sweden. I was drawn into their stories and struggles and eagerly followed their journeys. I did get frustrated with their actions at times, but I appreciated that they were honest with themselves. The ending was not what I had hoped nor expected for them, but I understand why the author did it (per “A Conversation with the Author” at the end, the setting of Sweden had a lot to do with it). These characters will stay with me for a long time, and I certainly walked away with much to think about. So many social issues were raised. I think this would make a great book club pick. I highly recommend the audiobook!

The Unseen (Ingrid Barrøy #1) by Roy Jacobsen
(Translated from the Norwegian by Don Bartlett and Don Shaw)

This is the first in a tetralogy about Ingrid who lives on the fictional island of Barrøy along the coast in Northern Norway. She is three when the book opens and it’s the beginning of the 20th century. She and her parents, aunt, and grandfather are the only inhabitants of this very remote island. The novel chronicles their life on the island, a life very tied to geography and weather. They survive off their crops, livestock, and fishing with occasional visits to the mainland. Mother, father, and Ingrid all have their dreams and it’s interesting to see how their lives play out as the outside world encroaches upon their own world. The old dialect in the dialogue is a little cumbersome, but there’s not too much of it. Looking forward to seeing how the future affects the inhabitants in the rest of the series.

The Assistant by Kjell Ola Dahl
(Translated from the Norwegian by Don Bartlett)

This is a standalone historical fiction thriller by the noted Norwegian crime fiction author of the Oslo Detective series. This book introduced me to a time period of Norwegian history I’m very unfamiliar with, the interwar period. The storyline jumps between the 1920s, during the Prohibition era, and 1938, just before World War II breaks out, and follows two characters who at first are on opposite sides of the law as an alcohol smuggler and police officer and then later work together as private investigator and assistant. Their case that sets off the series of events is simple, but the circumstances become complex mixing both past personal history and the then-current situation of secret Nazi officials on Norwegian soil. It was an enjoyable way to learn about a new-to-me historical time period, and especially fun for me was that it took place all over Oslo and very specific place names were mentioned, many of which were very familiar to me. As a thriller, though, it didn’t quite hit the spot for me.

What have you been reading lately?

By the way, if you’re interested in snagging some Scandinavian ebooks at a great discount, 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 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.

Book Details:

  • Norwegian Title: Vidunderbarn
  • Author: Roy Jacobsen (born 1954)
  • Norwegian Publication Date: 2009
  • English Title: Child Wonder
  • Translator: Don Bartlett with Don Shaw
  • US Publication Date: 2011
  • Awards: Norwegian Booksellers Award (2009)

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