What I’ve Been Reading Lately (October 2022) & #ScandiReadingChallenge Update

I love it when my reading selections bring me all over the place, and that was certainly the case this past month. I’ve been in San Francisco in the 1950s and on a cross country road trip in the 1930s. I was in Norway in the 1990s and 2010s and in South Korea at about the same time. I continue to join Modern Mrs Darcy’s Quick Lit where we share short and sweet reviews of what we’ve been reading lately.

2022 Scandinavian Reading Challenge Update

After having to pivot for September’s 1990s prompt, I am a bit behind on my Scandinavian Reading Challenge. When my initial pick didn’t work out, I read Anne Holt’s Blind Goddess instead. She’s a prolific Norwegian crime author who’s been on my TBR list for a long time. For October’s 2000s prompt, I just started reading Tante Ulrikkes vei by Zeshan Shakar. It’s a Norwegian novel about second generation immigrants in Oslo. It will take a little longer than usual to read this because it’s not just in standard Norwegian but it also contains “kebabnorsk”, a spoken dialect mixing Norwegian with foreign words, mainly Arabic and other Middle Eastern languages. (But I did sneak in a book set in the 2010s in Oslo this month so I should be up to speed for December!)

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

What have you been reading lately?


Last Night at the Telegraph Club by Malinda Lo 🎧
(Narrated by Emily Woo Zeller)

This book had all the things that I love about a reading experience. It was historical fiction about a time, place, and history I’m not too familiar with (1950s San Francisco, Chinese American culture, Red Scare, queer community) and it had characters I admired and became very invested in. It was a story of an unlikely friendship, in this case a Chinese American teenager and a white American teenager. It was a story about girls with big dreams, one wanting to pursue a career in space science and the other wanting to be a pilot. Specifically, it was the story of Lily and Kath whose friendship slowly grows into something neither of them completely understands, and all of it was extremely compellingly written and narrated. A 5-star read!

Malinda Lo’s latest release, A Scatter of Light, is already on my TBR list since “almost 60 years after the end of Last Night at the Telegraph Club, A Scatter of Light also offers a glimpse into Lily and Kath’s lives since 1955.” (book description)


West with Giraffes by Lynda Rutledge 🎧
(Narrated by Danny Campbell)

I wasn’t sure about this book when it was suggested for book club and I wasn’t enamored by it to begin with when I started listening. However, when their journey across the country finally began, I was all in and went for longer walks and didn’t mind long, slow drives. I loved the characters, both human and animal, and their road trip was full of adventure meeting all sorts of people along the way, both good and bad. Based on the real story of San Diego Zoo’s first giraffes who survived a hurricane and then traveled by truck from the East Coast in 1938, it’s a fabulous story of a road trip, unexpected friendships both with other humans and with animals, and first love. It’s at times humorous, moving, captivating, and even upsetting. Set against the background of the Dust Bowl and the advent of World War II, it also provides a glimpse at life in this time period. Highly recommend!


Blind Goddess (Hanne Wilhelmsen #1) by Anne Holt 📖
(Translated from the Norwegian by Tom Geddes)

Anne Holt is a prolific Norwegian crime author who’s been on my TBR list for a long time. I started with her debut novel, the first in the Hanne Wilhelmsen series (published in Norway in 1993), which was about drug trafficking and corruption. What’s unique about this series is that it features a lesbian protagonist. I liked the Oslo setting and the police investigator Hanne. However, I was not a fan of the writing style in which mystery and suspense were infused by referring to characters in the third person instead of by name. There were also too many characters to keep track of which made it confusing at times.

I have not given up on Anne Holt, though. I already have her latest publication, Det ellevte manus (The Eleventh Script, published in Norway in 2021) on my shelf and I have my eye on both her Vik and Stubo series and newest Selma Falck series.


Blood Ties (Clara #2) by Ruth Lillegraven 🎧📖
(Translated from the Norwegian by Diane Oatley)
(Narrated by M. Crouch, A. Eiden, S. Nielsen, M. Naramore, S. Graybill, S. Nankani, C. Ciulla)

I read the first in this series, Alt er mitt, in Norwegian two years ago before it was available in English (it’s now available in translation, Everything Is Mine, by Diane Oatley). I was enthralled at the time of reading, but I ended up being extremely disappointed in the ending which affected my whole outlook on the book. Then, when listening to an Instagram interview with the author, I learned of the planned trilogy and immediately changed my opinion of the book (Reading Lately: August 2020) and was eager to read the next one when it came out. Thank you to Netgalley and Amazon Crossing for providing an advance copy of the second book in the series.

Blood Ties was another pageturner and didn’t disappoint. It continues the story of Clara, now a single mother to twins about 8 years old, who has just been appointed Minister of Justice but doesn’t have much time to accomplish anything before her boys disappear. I had to suspend disbelief for a couple of things (lack of surveillance/supervision on the boys and a character’s lapse in judgment), but it still worked for me. The story is written from different perspectives, including one of her boys, which provided interesting insight into the plot. I had both the audiobook going for drives and walks (great ensemble narration) and the ebook for bedtime reading. I’m looking forward to the final installment because there are definitely elements that need wrapping up. (See Ruth Lillegraven talk (in English) about the first two books.)


Winter in Sokcho by Elisa Shua Dusapin 📖
(Translated from the French by Aneesa Higgins)

This debut novel by a French Korean author was left over from my TBR list for Women in Translation Month in August. The story takes place in a seaside summer resort town in South Korea near the North Korean border during winter time. The unnamed narrator, a 24-year old Sokcho-born French Korean woman, works as a receptionist (as well as cook and cleaner) in a worn down guesthouse. One evening, a French cartoonist checks in for an extended visit with the hope of completing the last volume of his series. They form a tenuous, uneasy friendship as the narrator shows him authentic Korea, including the DMZ. I enjoyed the book; it’s a subtle and spare novel. What I appreciated the most was getting a glimpse of a part of the world very unfamiliar to me. The Pachinko Parlor, her next novel, was recently published in English and is already on TBR list.


What have you been reading lately?

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

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.

What I’ve Been Reading Lately (December 2021) & #ScandiReadingChallenge Update 

I finished the 2021 reading year on a high note, and thinking back, it’s been a very good reading year – many good books in a variety of genres from diverse authors in many different settings.

Mid-year I discovered The Book Girls’ Book Voyage: Read Around the World reading challenge and completed it with books I had already read during the year and continued on my own schedule for the rest of the year. It’s an impressive selection of books I’ve read, if I may say so myself; click here to see the map with completed reads. One area remains, Arctic & Antarctic, which I plan to complete in January with a book that takes place in the Scandinavian Arctic area.

I also completed my Scandinavian Reading Challenge by the end of year unlike other years when I’ve had to wrap up some reads in the first month of the new year. Of the 12 books I read for the challenge, half were by non-Norwegian authors, which I was pleased to see, but only three were in Norwegian, a number I would like to increase in the next year.

Speaking of my next Scandinavian Reading Challenge, it will be a little different in 2022. Instead of creating my own prompts for the challenge, I will be participating in The Book Girls’ Decades Reading Challenge and reading Scandinavian plus potentially Icelandic and Finnish books to complete those prompts. Stay tuned for more information on that.

How’s your reading year been, and what have you been reading lately?


The Last Thing He Told Me by Laura Dave

This was a spontaneous read that was nowhere near my TBR list, but I was immediately drawn to the cover and the premise: a mother and teenage stepdaughter’s journey to discover what’s going on when their husband/father suddenly disappears leaving only a mysterious note. The question of whether we can ever truly know the people we love the most is an intriguing one. I enjoyed the evolving relationship between the stepdaughter and mother. It was a fun read that took me from the houseboats of Sausalito, CA, to the university town of Austin, Texas.

 


The Tenant (Kørner and Werner #1) by Katrine Engberg
(Translated from the Danish by Tara Chace)

Katrine Engberg is a Danish crime writer, a new-to-me Scandinavian author whom I learned about from Abby at Crime by the Book, a great fan of Nordic Noir. I definitely enjoyed the setting of Copenhagen during summer time, and the crime and ensuing investigation were intriguing. However, I was not a fan of the pair of male and female investigators. They just did not seem like good partners. Also, I wasn’t a fan of the writing and/or the translation was not as smooth as I had expected. There were unnecessary sexual descriptions and subplots. At times some translated words seemed more vulgar than they needed to be and this turned me off. Upon checking a Norwegian version of the book, it seems this may be a translation issue?

🇩🇰 Scandinavian Reading Challenge 2021: A book by a new-to-me Scandinavian author


Leave the World Behind by Rumaan Alam

This was an unread Book of the Month selection that my book club chose to read, and it made for a very good discussion. It’s an unusual reading experience, a suspenseful, slow burn with nothing really happening, just the characters going about their business as something unknown and mysterious is happening in the background. A family with teenage kids rents a house for a week’s vacation on Long Island, NY, but their stay is interrupted when an older couple arrives after a blackout has hit New York City. With no TV, Internet, or cell service, they try to figure out what’s happening. It’s a book that leaves the reader with many questions, many of which stay unanswered. It’s a great one for book clubs because everyone will have different opinions on the writing style, characters, and plot.

📚 #unreadBOTMchallenge


The Darkness (Hidden Iceland/Hulda Series, #1) by Ragnar Jónasson
(Translated from the Icelandic by Victoria Cribb)

This best-selling Icelandic crime author has been on my radar for a long time thanks, once again, to Abby at Crime by the Book. I didn’t know whether to start with his debut crime series, Dark Iceland, or this newer one, Hidden Iceland. I ended up just selecting what was available immediately. A traditional police procedural, it was a very captivating read. I liked the main character Hulda Hermannsdóttir, a 64-year-old detective forced into early retirement, who takes on one last case, a cold case about a dead female Russian asylum seeker. I liked the setting, Iceland during spring time with glimpses of winter time. I learned after finishing the book that this trilogy is in reverse chronological order. Knowing this and with the ending as it was, I’m eager to continue the series sooner rather than later.

🇮🇸 Scandinavian Reading Challenge 2021: A book set in a Nordic country you would like to visit or revisit


Winter Stories by Ingvild H. Rishøi
(Translated from the Norwegian by Diane Oatley)

I don’t normally read short stories, but at a virtual event with Norwegian authors, this particular author was mentioned as a must-read and I was drawn to the serene winter cover, so I decided I’d save it as a winter read. It’s a collection of three long short stories, all of which take place during winter time in Norway and are about vulnerable people (a young single mother, an ex-convict, and a teenager) trying to do their best for the young children in their lives, but with difficulty. The author does a compelling job of exploring their struggles, and in every story there’s an unexpected stranger whose compassion makes a significant difference. A five-star read for me.

🇳🇴 Scandinavian Reading Challenge 2021: A Nordic book you chose for the cover AND A Nordic book in genre you don’t normally read


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.

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.

What I’ve Been Reading Lately (August & September 2021): #WITmonth

I devoted August along with September to reading women in translation (#WITmonth) from outside Scandinavia, thus unfortunately making little progress on my Scandinavian Reading Challenge these last couple of months. This year’s #WITmonth selections brought me all over the world — Basque Country in Spain, Gulf of Finland, Moroccan countryside, working class neighborhood in Thailand, and the former Soviet republic of Georgia — through the eyes of female authors intimately familiar with their regions. Their perspectives provided a deeper look at the history and culture of these countries, many of which I have little knowledge of.

What have you been reading lately?


The Silence of the White City (Trilogy of the White City #1) by Eva García Sáenz 🇪🇸📖 (Translated from the Spanish by Nick Caistor)

I loved how this crime fiction novel transported me to Basque Country in northern Spain. A police inspector and his partner are assigned to investigate a series of brutal, ritualistic murders that resemble ones from 20 years ago. However, the perpetrator of those murders is still behind bars. Is he involved from within or has he been wrongly imprisoned? The storyline was complex and layered, jumping back and forth in time, and incorporated elements of the region’s traditions and mythology, resulting in a very engaging read. I’m eager to read book 2 in the series!

 

Book Voyage: Read Around the World: Western Europe (Spain)


The Summer Book by Tove Jansson 🇫🇮📖
(Translated from the Swedish by Thomas Teal)

This was a very enjoyable book, a perfect quiet, summer read. It’s a series of vignettes about a very young girl and her elderly grandmother during summer time on a remote island in the Gulf of Finland. Their relationship is very sweet. The girl is at times temperamental and demanding, but the grandmother is always understanding and straightforward, at times playful and creative. They discuss and handle topics ranging from the inconsequential to the very significant. The island and nature play equally important roles in the story as the girl and her grandmother. Sometimes this is exactly the type of book you need.

I felt a special connection to the book because I grew up spending summers on an island along the eastern coast of Norway, not as remote as this one, but somewhat rustic. Reading this book brought back many warm memories from my island summers as a child.

Book Voyage: Read Around the World: Book Set on an Island (Finland)


In the Country of Others: A Novel by Leïla Slimani 🇲🇦📖
(Translated from the French by Sam Taylor)

This is the story of French woman Mathilde who falls in love with Amine, a Moroccan soldier fighting for France in World War II. They marry, move to an inherited farm in Morocco, and raise a family during the time when colonial Morocco is fighting for independence from France. Mathilda struggles with their isolated life on the rocky farm in a tough climate. Also, raising two interracial children is not easy in a community where she is not accepted fully by anyone. The story weaves seamlessly between the different characters’ perspectives making this a compelling look at colonial Morocco in the 1950s. This appears to be the first in a planned trilogy, and I look forward to seeing how Mathilda’s life and those of her children evolve in the future.

Book Voyage: Read Around the World: Africa (Morocco)


The Last Exiles: A Novel by Ann Shin 🇰🇵📖

This novel was a departure from my books by women in translation these last two months, but I was inspired by an upcoming author chat on Instagram hosted by @owlslittlelibrary. The story of a young university couple from very different backgrounds and their defection from North Korea to China was an intriguing one. I appreciated the insight into brokers, the black market, human trafficking, and the general plight of illegal immigrants in China. However, I felt the love story between the couple didn’t warrant the woman’s actions, and I felt their journeys were too easy and quick. Their experiences in China, however, were more descriptive and plausible, and that aspect of the book made a great impression on me.

Book Voyage: Read Around the World: North Asia (North Korea)


Bright by Duanwad Pimwana 🇹🇭📖
(Translated from the Thai by Mui Poopoksakul)

This book has been on my TBR for #WITmonth for a couple of years now, and I’m so glad I finally checked it off. It reminded me a bit of Tove Jansson’s The Summer Book that I recently read in that it also is a series of vignettes about a young child and their experiences with people around them. In this case, five-year-old Kampol, or Boy as he’s known to those around him, is abandoned by his parents outside their run-down apartment building in their working class neighborhood in Thailand. The community steps up and takes turns housing and feeding him. The reader meet all sorts of characters, young and old, who help Boy overcome his abandonment and sadness. It’s a heartwarming book that gives intriguing glimpses into the lives of a Thai working class neighborhood.

Book Voyage: Read Around the World: South Asia (Thailand)


The Eighth Life (for Brilka) by Nino Haratischvili
(Translated from the German by Charlotte Collins and Ruth Martin)
(Narrated by Tavia Gilbert)

I’m a little over half way through the book but that is the equivalent of about 2 books! This is a long one, 944 pages or 41 hours of listening, but it’s extremely engrossing and I’m always eager to return to it. I’m grateful that hoopla offers the audiobook because then I can just keep reborrowing it until I’m done. It’s the story of a Georgian family, in particular its women, beginning in the early 1900s. We get an insider’s view of the tumultuous history of Russian Empire/Union of Soviet Socialist Republics/Russia. Niza, born in 1974, is telling the family’s story to her niece Brilka starting with their great grandmother Stasia. If long books or audiobooks are your thing, I highly recommend this one even though I’m not done yet.

Book Voyage: Read Around the World: Eastern Europe & Russia


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.

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.

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.

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.

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?

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.

What I’ve Been Reading Lately (August 2020) & #WITMonth

August Was Women in Translation Month!

I spent much of July planning my stack for August’s Women in Translation Month, a yearly monthlong initiative to promote women writers from around the world who write in languages other than English. Since I tend to read many Scandinavian female authors throughout the year, I usually focus on female writers from other parts of the world for this event. Originally, my TBR pile for August included Chilean, Mauritian-French, Franco-Moroccan, Thai, and Japanese authors. However, my reading took unexpected turns when special author experiences presented themselves, so it wasn’t just female authors from far away lands this month as planned.

Here are my latest reads and listens. What have you been reading lately?


The Mothers by Brit Bennett

I had been meaning to read this for a long time. It was my Book of the Month selection in October 2016! After reading author Nic Stone’s article, “Don’t Just Read About Racism—Read Stories About Black People Living,” in Cosmopolitan (June 2020), I decided there was no time like the present to read it and I convinced my book club to join me. Also, I wanted to join LA Times’ Book Club with Brit Bennett on August 25 which added an extra incentive to read it sooner rather than later. It didn’t disappoint. The story takes place in a contemporary, tight-knit Black community in Oceanside, California, and is about a decision that 17-year-old Nadia makes in her senior year of high school before she heads off to college. It’s about how that decision affects her and those around her in the years to come. We follow not only Nadia as she becomes an adult, but also her high school boyfriend and best friend. The title is spot on. The book features mothers of all kinds – missing mothers, present mothers, stand-in mothers, wannabe mothers, and a Greek chorus of mothers, the last of which I thought added an interesting layer to the story.

Reading Challenges:


Valentine by Elizabeth Wetmore
(Narrated by  Cassandra Campbell, Jenna Lamia)

This was another unread BOTM pick that jumped to the top of TBR pile in August when I learned that I would have the opportunity to hear the author participate in a virtual event (Creating Conversations with Literary Women). I read and listened to this one – both were excellent experiences. The story takes place in West Texas oil field country in the mid-1970s. It explores the aftermath of a brutal attack on a 14-year-old Mexican-American girl by a white boy through the perspectives of seven women in the community. The women range in age from 10 to 70s and have such unique and engaging personalities. It explores inner conflict as well as outer conflict in regards to the crime committed and how it’s handled by the community. It features women’s courage and strength. I highly recommend this book. This was a 5-star book for me.

Reading Challenges:


The Remainder by Alia Trabucco Zerán
(Translated from the Spanish by Sophie Hughes)

This was my first read for Women in Translation Month. It appeared on my radar last year at this time when it was released in English (originally published in Chile in 2014). I’ve been wanting to read more literature from South America so I thought this would be a good choice. Unfortunately, this book was not for me. I did appreciate getting a glimpse of Chile’s history, in this case Pinochet’s dictatorship and its legacy, but that was about it. The story of the three childhood friends who go on a road trip to retrieve the body of one friend’s mother who was being repatriated to Chile but ended up in the neighboring country instead due to volcanic ash disrupting air traffic in Santiago was uninteresting. It didn’t help that half the story was told through one character’s stream of consciousness that made little sense. I am in the minority regarding my opinion of this book, though, because it was shortlisted for the 2019 Man Booker International Prize.

Reading Challenges:


The Perfect Nanny by Leïla Slimani
(Translated from the French by Sam Taylor)

This was another book for Women in Translation Month that’s been on my radar for a while, and unfortunately, it did not live up to my expectations either. It’s a murder mystery that starts with the ending. We know the “who” and “how” right from the beginning (and it’s horrible) but not the “why” so the author takes us back in time to get to know the family and the nanny. Why did this supposed perfect nanny kill the two young children? It’s billed as a psychological thriller. I was engaged and enjoyed the development of the story, but the ending was unsatisfying and disappointing.

Reading Challenges:


Alt er mitt by Ruth Lillegraven
(Written in Norwegian but to be released in English in March 2021 as Everything Is Mine translated by Diane Oatley)

I had not done my research on this book, and I’m glad I hadn’t. If I had, I may not have read it and missed out on a fun reading experience. It turned out that half the book was written in New Norwegian, and historically I have avoided such books and read them in translation later. This book is about a couple, Clara and Haavard, who seem to have a perfect marriage. The story is told in alternating perspectives mostly from them. Clara is from Western Norway and speaks New Norwegian, and Haavard is from Oslo and speaks standard Norwegian. Luckily, their two different “languages” wasn’t a problem for me and I thought it a clever way to add a distinction between the characters. When I read it, I also did not know it was the first in a planned trilogy. Initially, I was very disappointed in the ending, but then I listened in on an Instagram event with the author and learned of the planned trilogy. I immediately changed my opinion of the book, and I’m eagerly awaiting the next installment. English readers, look out for the release of the English translation next year!

Reading Challenges:


Tropic of Violence by Nathacha Appanah
(Translated from the French by Geoffrey Strachen)

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 Women in Translation Month.

Reading Challenges:


Before I leave you, I want to make sure readers interested in Nordic literature (Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Iceland, and Finland) are aware of the many virtual bookish events, such as author talks, panel discussions, and book club meetings, now available to a wider audience. See my post Virtual Scandinavian Events for Fall 2020 for details!

What have you been reading lately? Did you read any women in translation in August?

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.

 

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.

What I’ve Been Reading Lately & My Latest Virtual Book Events (May 2020)

Now that month #3 of staying at home has passed and summertime with its more relaxed schedules is here, I think I’ve finally fallen into a more regular reading rhythm. Two of my favorite times of the day now are when I can sit outside and read during lunchtime and in the early evening.

I continued to attend virtual book events this past month. I thoroughly enjoyed the LA Times’ Book Club conversation with Emily St. John Mandel on May 19. More significantly, I got to “travel” to Norway last month for the Norwegian Festival of Literature in Lillehammer which took place May 29-31. In particular, I enjoyed the panel discussion on Maja Lunde’s success around the world and her lecture as winner of this year’s Bjørnson Prize.

Through my reading this month, I’ve traveled the world in time and place. I’ve experienced 1918 Philadelphia during the Spanish flu pandemic, an Indian immigrant community in London, a small Danish coastal town, and Norway in 2017/France in 2041. Here are my latest reads and listens. What have you been reading lately?


As Bright as Heaven by Susan Meissner

I loved this book. It provided a look at life in Philadelphia during the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic. It’s about a mother and father and their three young daughters who moved to Philadelphia to take advantage of the opportunity for the father to work with his uncle and eventually take over the uncle’s mortuary. Not too long after their arrival, the pandemic hits. In alternating perspectives of the mother and three daughters, readers follow this family through the pandemic – and World War I which is happening in the background – and beyond. It was fascinating to see the similarities and differences to our own current experience. It’s not an easy time for them, but it’s not all misery either. I highly recommend it.

Reading Challenges:


Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows by Balli Kaur Jaswal
(Audiobook narrated by Meera Syal)

In many ways, this book was what I expected, but in a couple of significant ways, it was not. And it was the combination of the expected and the unexpected that made me enjoy the book even more. I knew it was going to be an East-meets-West kind of book. Nikki, the Westernized daughter of Punjabi immigrants in London (and a law school drop-out who doesn’t really know what to do with her life), decides to take on teaching a writing class to traditional Punjabi widows at a Sikh community center. It turns out to be not your typical writing class in any sense. The women, many of whom are illiterate, begin sharing erotic stories which are transcribed by a fellow student. This “writing class” takes on a life of its own, and over time, Nikki becomes aware of secrets and mysteries within the Punjabi community. It’s a glimpse into an immigrant experience and culture and religion that I know little about. The characters are fun, the writing engaging, and the story fulfilling. In addition, there was such unexpected depth and substance to this novel which made it a wonderful reading experience.

Reading Challenges:


The Murder of Halland by Pia Juul
(Translated from the Danish by Martin Aitken)

I knew this wasn’t going to be a typical Nordic noir or murder mystery book, but I’m not sure what it ended up being for me. It begins with a murder and there is mystery surrounding the murder, but that’s not the main point of the book. It’s about the murder victim’s common law wife and how she deals with his death. She does not seem to mourn her husband as you’d expect nor does she seem interested in helping the police solve the crime. It’s more about her place in her community and her relationship with family members. She mourns her daughter’s decade-long absence from her life more than her partner’s death. She discovers secrets in her husband’s life. There’s no clear resolution to the murder mystery, but lots to wonder about. It’s certainly an interesting character study.

Reading Challenges:


The End of the Ocean by Maja Lunde (The Climate Quartet #2)
(Translated from the Norwegian by Diane Oatley)

Book #2 in Maja Lunde’s Climate Quartet tackles the climate concern of water and the threat of worldwide drought. The story jumps back and forth between two storylines which eventually intersect: 70-year old Signe in 2017 in Norway and David and his young daughter Lou in 2041 in France. Signe is a climate activist who lives on her sailboat (named Blue, hence the Norwegian title Blå). A visit back to her childhood village deep in a Norwegian fjord sets in motion an ocean journey to find the man who used to be the love of her life. David and Lou had to flee from their home in southern France due to drought and fire and are struggling to survive in a refugee camp. Besides it being a book about humans’ connection and reliance on water, it is also about human relationships, in particular father-daughter relationships. I’m always intrigued by unique structures like the one in this book, and the human element added to my enjoyment of it. I really enjoyed the book, but I did prefer the first one, The History of Bees, with its focus on our relationship with bees in the past, present, and future (read more here). I’m looking forward to book #3, Przewalski’s Horse. The Norwegian edition, published September 2019, is already on my shelf.

Reading Challenges:


What have you been reading lately?

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.

Reading Lately (March 2020) & #ScandiReadingChallenge Update

With a prolonged self-quarantine headed my way, I thought I would have lots of extra time to read. It hasn’t quite worked out that way yet. Maybe once we settle into this new normal, I’ll find more time to just read. In the meantime, here are my latest reads and listens. What have you been reading lately?


The Mother-in-Law by Sally Hepworth
(Audiobook narrated by Barrie Kreinik)

This was a wonderfully entertaining audiobook that I always returned to eagerly. It’s a murder mystery in which the mother-in-law is found dead under suspicious circumstances and no one in the family is safe from scrutiny. It’s told from the perspectives of the daughter-in-law and the mother-in-law, and it jumps back and forth in time so you get insights into all the family members’ histories and you see different perspectives on the same situations. They are a very complicated family and there are many unrealized misunderstandings. It was an extremely compelling story and had me engaged until the very end. I’ll be listening to/reading more by Sally Hepworth!

Reading Challenges:


Clearing Out by Helene Uri
(Translated from the Norwegian by Barbara Sjoholm, 2019)

This was a unique book, a mix of fiction and autobiography, about families and their stories. The author discovers her grandfather was a Sámi fisherman (indigenous people in the north of Norway, Sweden, Finland and Russia) and intertwines that experience with a fictional story of a character who goes to northern Norway to study Sámi language extinction. There are many parallels between the author and the fictional character. Not only are they both linguists, but they both also experience the loss of an older parent. At first it was a little difficult to distinguish between the author’s story and the character’s story, but soon the transitions became seamless and I considered it a clever technique. I was intrigued by the reflections on Sámi identities and their history in Norway. It’s not something I’ve come across often in Norwegian literature. (If interested, take a look at this article by the book’s translator which includes a discussion about the Sámi elements as well as an interview with the author.)

(Thank you to NetGalley and the University of Minnesota Press for providing me a copy of this book!)

Reading Challenges:


In the Midst of Winter: A Novel by Isabel Allende
(Translated from the Spanish by Nick Castor and Amanda Hopkinson)
(Audiobook narrated by Dennis Boutsikaris, Jasmine Cephas Jones, and Alma Cuervo)

All I knew about this book going into it was that it took place in Brooklyn during a big snowstorm. I did not know I’d be getting a whirlwind historical tour of Latin America. Most of the action takes place over just a few days when three people are brought together by a car accident. However, during their days together, we jump back in time to Guatemala in the 1990s, Chile in the 1950s, and Brazil in the 1990s to learn about their pasts. The illegal immigrant’s story of coming from Guatemala to the US through Mexico and across the Rio Grande was the one I enjoyed the most. Having recently read American Dirt, I appreciated the additional perspective on that experience. Overall, it was a fine story and the language was lovely, but it was not as engaging as I would have preferred.

Reading Challenges:


Your House Will Pay by Steph Cha

The racial tensions and violence of the Los Angeles Riots of 1992 form the basis for this novel. A contemporary story set in 2019, it follows two families who have a shared history with that racially tense time. Shawn Matthews, an African American man whose sister was shot and killed in 1991, leads a quiet life far away from his troublesome youth days in South Central LA. At the same time, Grace Park, a Korean American woman who lives a sheltered life home with her parents, can’t understand why her sister won’t talk to their mother. It’s a very engaging and compelling read which provided much material to discuss at our virtual book club meeting. I highly recommend it.

Reading Challenges:


What have you been reading lately?

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.

Reading Lately (February 2020) & #ScandiReadingChallenge Update

February was a productive, varied, and very enjoyable month of reading for me. First of all, I finally completed my 2019 Scandinavian Reading Challenge at the beginning of the month. I have compiled all my reads at What I Read for the 2019 #ScandiReadingChallenge. Secondly, I continued strong with my reading intentions for 2020. And considering what’s going on this month, it looks like March will be a good reading month, too.

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


North Wild Kitchen: Home Cooking from the Heart of Norway
by Nevada Berg

I was already a fan of the author’s blog North Wild Kitchen so when she published a cookbook I knew I would buy it. The author is from Utah, and in the introduction, she explains how she ended up buying a mountain farm “deep in the belly of Norway” and began exploring the country’s cuisine. I enjoy how the cookbook is organized thematically by source reflecting Norwegian food culture: foraging, fishing, farming (“Seteren”), harvesting, hunting, storing (“Stabburet”), camping, and baking. It includes both traditional Norwegian meals as well as Norwegian-inspired recipes. I was happy to see many favorite foods, such as “boller” (sweet buns with cardamom), “grovbrød” (multigrain bread) and “bløtkake” (layered cream cake with fresh berries), as well as some new-to-me dishes like “plukkfisk” (fish and mashed potatoes with roasted carrots, sauteed leeks, and bacon) which seemed reasonable to attempt at home. The commentary on Norwegian food culture is insightful, the recipes manageable (I appreciate the tips on substitutions for some of the more “exotic” ingredients like moose and grouse), and the photos are delightful. It’s a beautiful addition to any kitchen, but especially to one with a cook with Norwegian roots.

Reading Challenges:


American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins
(Audiobook narrated by Yareli Arizmendi)

This was high on my TBR list after I first heard about it in the fall of 2019, but then on the day of its release with all the surrounding controversy, I became uncertain as to whether I actually wanted to read it. However, before I had a chance to think much more about it, my audiobook hold became available so I decided to give it a try. At least I’d know specifically what the controversy related to. I did really enjoy it. I found it engaging and eye-opening. It’s the story of a mother and her young son on a journey to survive. They have to flee Acapulco after her journalist husband and many family members are killed by the cartel. They make their way north along with other migrants who are from different places and on the journey for various reasons. I was familiar with the general picture of migrants from Central America making their way north and the troubles at the border. I knew of El Bestia, the Mexican freight trains that carry migrants northward, and the dangers involved. However, the book gave me a closer and more personal look at what that journey is like – the good, the bad, and the ugly – and I appreciated that. I always make an effort to read diverse authors and now I have added even more books by Latinx authors to my TBR, books exploring a variety of Latinx experiences.

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Dødevaskeren (The Dead Washer) by Sara Omar
(Translated from the Danish to the Norwegian by Hilde Rød-Larsen)

This is an amazing and heartbreaking novel dealing with the oppression of Muslim women, in particular in the Kurdistan region of Iraq. The author was born and raised in Kurdistan, but she had to flee as a young teenager in the late 1990s due to war. She eventually made her way to Denmark. I was very eager to read this book when I first learned about it from the Scandinavian bookstagram community. When it was published in Denmark in 2017, it was hailed as “the year’s most important book.” The author had to have police protection due to the backlash from the anti-Islam content.

The book is about a girl named Frmesk born in Kurdistan in 1986 (just like the author; I wonder how much of the novel is autobiographical). 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. I certainly hope it’s translated to English so it can engage many more readers. Sara Omar’s second book, Skyggedanseren (The Shadow Dancer), a follow-up to the first, was published in Denmark in November 2019 and I’m very eager to read it when it’s released in Norwegian in May 2020.

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Beyond All Reasonable Doubt by Malin Persson Giolito
(Translated from the Swedish by Rachel Willson-Broyles)

This was my second Malin Persson Giolito book. I really enjoyed Quicksand, her English language debut. There are many similarities between the two books. They are both legal thrillers in which the subject matter is heavy and discussion-worthy, and the narrative structure is one in which the story jumps back and forth in time. Quicksand was about a school shooting; this book explores a possibly wrongful murder conviction (of a man who happens to be hated by society for an unrelated alleged child molestation). This story alternates between contemporary times, when the criminal defense lawyer is looking through the case again, and 1997/1998, when the 15-year-old girl was killed and a 35-year-old man convicted and sentenced to life in prison. I felt the book lacked in certain areas, like character development of Sophia Weber, the lawyer, and advancement of the plot. I learned later that this book is actually the second book in a series featuring this lawyer (the first does not have an English translation) so that could explain the missing background information needed to understand some of the lawyer’s actions. Plot-wise, the lawyer didn’t agree to take the case until practically half way through the book which was frustrating. The book provided thought-provoking material, but unfortunately, I did not feel satisfied at the end.

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The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides
(Audiobook narrated by Jack Hawkins and Louise Brealey)

I’m confused by this book. I loved it while I was listening and couldn’t wait to return to it. It was extremely engaging and kept me wondering. But then when the pieces started falling into place, I became confused. I thought I had a handle on the timelines – the events leading up to the killing that took place years earlier and the therapist’s current life situation – but then it didn’t make sense to me. When I had finished, I felt like I needed to go back and reread to see where I had missed something. Did I listen too fast? I would have loved to discuss this with someone who had read it at the same time as me. Thinking back about it now I realize I’ve already started forgetting little details so it’s hard to attempt to clear up my confusion.

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What have you been reading lately?

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