What Do You Dream … When the Temperature Hits 100 Degrees?
Only a bit larger than Montana, with a population of about 5 million, at the same latitude as Canada’s Northwest Territories, Kongeriket Norge, The Kingdom of Norway, has mountains, fjords, and small farms. Although milder in winter than you might think, there is snow cover for 3 months a year. In the summer, average temperatures might be about 60 degrees in Oslo, but warmer inland.
From Norway we got Vikings—always a fascinating topic—and now, oil. Norway is the largest petroleum liquids producer in Europe and third-largest natural gas exporter on the planet. Norway exports large amounts of natural gas to its European neighbors.
From oil, fisheries, and timbering, Norway has one of the highest standards of living in the world, with cradle-to-grave social services, such as almost 12 months paid paternity leave and universal health care. Yet Norwegians love to dream of darker things—Norway has a vibrant number of noir/suspense/ mystery writers. And there are some Nobel Prize-winning Norwegian authors. So—what can you do at the library to explore Kongeriket Norge?
Travel GuidesShould you wish to travel to Norway, take a look at Lonely Planet’s Norway, Rick Steves' Norway, or Norway from Eyewitness Travel Guides.
All come with background information, maps and suggestions for hotels and restaurants. They cover the largest city, Oslo, the smaller Norwegian cities, the famous stave churches, and offshore islands.
There is abundant literature on the Vikings. But let us just consider one that is a bit different! Indulge your inner warrior and seafaring spirit with a rather offbeat read:
Viking: The Norse Warrior's (Unofficial) Manual by John Haywood
Haywood has the go-to manual on how to be a standout Viking. Learn to wield an ax, sail a longship, treat nasty battle wounds, and maraud with style. You will find your 10th century inner warrior and reap treasures as you journey the Viking path. Enlightenment will not be included.
For more sedate fare, follow up with The Vikings and Their Enemies: Warfare in Northern Europe, 750-1100 by Philip Line or Vikings: Life and Legend from Cornell Press.
Nordic Noir is hot! This is crime and mystery fiction by Scandinavian authors. Typical Nordic fare might be heavily police procedural-based, with a strong realistic style, and tangled dark moral atmosphere. No cozy mysteries here! And we have plenty of examples from Norway.
The biggest name—the king of Norway Noir—is Jo Nesbø. Nesbø is best known for his Harry Hole series. Harry is a loner, a hard-drinking, non-repentant heavy-smoking Oslo detective. His last name, Hole, derives from Old Norse and is pronounced with two syllables—something like hoh-leh. There are ten of these Harry books and if you want to read them in order, here is the list: The Bat, Cockroaches, The Redbreast, Nemesis, The Devil's Star, The Redeemer, The Snowman, The Leopard, Phantom, and Police.
But you might want to also check more Norway Noir from Karin Fossum, Anne Holt, and Thomas Enger.
And hopefully coming our way on DVD soon will be a geopolitical thriller based on a concept by Jo Nesbø, Okkupert (or Occupied in English). Already shown in Norway, the most expensive and successful TV series made by Norway, season one is available on Netflix.
It is a riveting current-day geopolitical thriller with subtitles. Imagine… Norway, under the leadership of a very "green" prime minister and party, idealistically and abruptly halts all export of oil and gas to Europe and Russia. A fuel embargo, no less. Instead, Norway will provide some clean nuclear-type fuel. This ruffles the feathers of its foreign customers, especially Russia. And Russia stages a low-key soft-glove infiltration of Norway in order to get the gas and oil flowing. And then it gets more complicated! I am counting the days until Season 2. Kidnappings, intrigue, moles, collaboration, murder, rebellion, international crisis, plots and coups—could it happen there, or here?
And until season 2 of Okkupert, we have other Norwegian crime writers translated to film that we can watch. Private Investigator Varg Veum is based on the crime novels of Gunnar Staalesen. Varg Veum (varg from the Norwegian for wolf) is a private investigator hunting down the villains. Unni Lindell: The Cato Isaksen Mysteries is based on the work of author Unni Lindell and follows the sleuthing of the middle-aged Oslo detective Cato Isaksen. Apparently, all is not well in the state of Norway…
—Not NoirNorwegian novelist Sigrid Undset (1892-1949) published her trilogy of three novels—The Wreath, The Wife, and The Cross—between 1920 and 1922. The trilogy is popularly known as Kristin Lavransdatter. Unset won the noble prize for literature - mainly for this work. Kristin Lavransdatter is the story of a woman’s life in medieval Norway—as young girl, wife, mother, spiritual being and more. One of the greatest historical novels ever written, it transcends its genre with echoes of Norse myth, folklore and legend woven into the writing style. The new English translation by Tiina Nunnally is the first since the 1920s and has been widely praised. It is only about 1,000 pages—and so many enthralling hours.
My Struggle awaits you. This is a set of six novels written in the late 2000’s about one man’s life. Karl Ove Knausgård, the Norwegian author, created this autobiographical opus covering the eponymous hero, Karl Ove, from teen years through middle age. The novels have been translated into over 20 languages and sold millions of copies. The sixth volume is not yet available in English. (Book 1; Book 2; Book 3; Book 4; Book 5.)
At 3,600 pages for the published installments—you will know Karl Ove, the character, better than your best friend. Are the trials and tribulations of Karl Ove fact or fiction? Are there national characteristics, perhaps a Norwegian spirit, that connects Kristin Lavransdatter to My Struggle? Convince yourself and perhaps your book group to find out!
And if you read any of the above, starting now—behold, summer will have passed before the last page!