Posted by: montclairlibrary | September 26, 2015

Nordic Lit

Swedish winter photo by Peter Kirn via Flickr

All this hot weather has us day-dreaming about cooler climes. Something about Scandinavia, with its long nights, dramatic landscapes and practical furniture, captures the imagination of writers, too.

Of course, when you mention Scandinavian lit the first thing that comes to mind for many people is probably Stieg Larsson’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo series, especially with the new continuation based on Larsson’s characters, The Girl in the Spider’s Web by David Lagercrantz, burning up the hold lists — as of this writing there are 78 holds on 21 copies.

In fact, we could build a whole list just around Scandinavian mysteries, the so-called “Nordic noir” of writers like Jo Nesbø, Camilla Läckberg and Henning Mankell.

But there’s more to Nordic lit than just crime fiction, although much of it does seem to center around brooding melancholy and dark personal secrets. But there’s also love, history and absurdist humor to be found in these selections from the OPL collection:

The Sunlit Night by Rebecca Dinerstein (FIC DINERSTEI) (not at Montclair) – In this new book, a woman fleeing a painful breakup and an eighteen-year-old Russian immigrant carrying out his father’s last wish to be buried “at the top of the world” intersect in Lofoten, a string of Norwegian islands ninety-five miles above the Arctic Circle.

Stockholm Octavo by Karen Engelmann (FIC ENGELMANN) – Life is close to perfect for Emil Larsson, a self-satisfied bureaucrat in the Office of Customs and Excise in 1791 Stockholm, until one evening when a fortune-teller shares her vision with him.

The Tricking of Freya by Christina Sunley (FIC SUNLEY) – As Manhattan photographer Freya Morris becomes increasingly obsessed with unraveling her family’s tangled story, she journeys to Iceland. On this rugged island of vast lava fields and immense glaciers, Freya’s quest comes to its unsettling conclusion.

Burial Rites by Hannah Kent (FIC KENT) – Set against Iceland’s stark landscape, this is the story of Agnes, who, charged with the brutal murder of her former master, is sent to an isolated farm to await execution. But as Agnes’s death looms, the farmer’s wife and their daughters learn there is another side to the sensational story they’ve heard.

101 Reykjavik: by Hallgrímur Helgason (FIC HALLGRIMU) – Against the backdrop of Reykjavik’s storied nightlife and amid the swelling global presence of Icelandic culture, Helgason portrays with brutal honesty and humor a young man who takes uselessness to new extremes, and for whom redemption may not even be an option.

Out Stealing Horses by Per Petterson (FIC PETTERSON) – At age sixty-seven, Trond has settled into a rustic cabin in an isolated part of eastern Norway to live the rest of his life with a quiet deliberation. A meeting with his only neighbor, however, forces him to reflect on a fateful summer from his youth.

The Room by Jonas Karlsson (FIC KARLSSON) (not at Montclair) – Bjorn is a compulsive, meticulous bureaucrat who discovers a secret room at the government office where he works.

Popular Music from Vittula by Mikael Niemi (FIC NIEMI) (not at Montclair) – Looks at life in a small Swedish village during the 1960s and its colorful inhabitants. Or as author Vendela Vida described it in her recommendation, “You might have read nine or 10 funny and tender coming-of-age novels set in a small town in Sweden during the late 60s and early 70s that chronicle a young boy’s discovery of the Beatles, sex, hermit magicians and sauna-endurance contests. Even so, I think this one might be the best.”

And speaking of Vida:
Let the Northern Lights Erase Your Name by Vendela Vida (FIC VIDA) (not at Montclair) – On the day of her father’s funeral, twenty-eight-year-old Clarissa Iverton discovers that he wasn’t her biological father after all. She finds her birth certificate, which leads her from New York to Helsinki, and then north of the Arctic Circle, to mystical Lapland, where she believes she’ll meet her real father.

The Hundred Year Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson (FIC JONASSON) (not at Montclair) – Confined to a nursing home and about to turn 100, Allan Karlsson, who has a larger-than-life back story as an explosives expert, climbs out of the window in his slippers and embarks on an unforgettable adventure involving thugs, a murderous elephant and a very friendly hot dog stand operator.

Norwegian by Night by Derek B. Miller (FIC MILLER) (not at Montclair) – After witnessing a murder in Oslo, elderly former Marine sniper Sheldon Horrowitz flees to safety with the newly orphaned son of the victim.

Smilla’s Sense of Snow by Peter Hoeg (MYS HOEG) (not at Montclair) – When her six-year-old neighbor falls to his death and no one is willing to suspect foul play, Smilla Qaavigaaq Jasperson finds her own investigation taking her into the files of a Danish company.

Lastly, honorable mention to a book not in OPL, Benny & Shrimp by Katarina Mazetti, a suitably complicated middle-aged love story about a young widowed librarian and an overworked dairy farmer, set in Sweden.

There, now don’t you feel cooler just looking at all those icy blue covers?

12 Books Set in Scandinavia, a list by the Friends of Montclair Library

Top photo: Peter Kirn via Flickr / Creative Commons


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