The Half Brother, by Lars Saabye Christensen

This epic novel by Lars Saabye Christiensen won The Half Brother, Lars Saabye Christensenthe Nordic prize for literature in 2002. The Half Brother, very beloved in Norway, tells the story of four generations of an extraordinary Norwegian family living in Oslo. In some ways, theirs is an ordinary life in Oslo, in other ways it is quite out of the ordinary.

Lars Saabye Christensen

saabye christensen
   Saabye Christensen is considered one of the most important Norwegian authors of our time. Since 1976 he has written three collections of short stories, twelve novels and ten collections of poetry.
   Christensen has won many prizes, including the Nordic Prize 2002 for The Half Brother, the Tarjei Vesaas Prize for First Fiction, the Norwegian Critics Prize, The Brage Award and the Bookseller's Prize.
   His writing has been published throughout Europe, in the US and in Pakistan. His story The Jealous Hairdresser has been made into a movie.
   He was born in 1953 and resides in Oslo, Norway.

Read an interview with Saabye Christensen in The Independent

The saga begins with the horrifying rape of Vera in her attic as she hangs out the washing by a German soldier during World War II. Vera is living with her mother, Boletta (who has no male partner), and her grandmother, the Old One, whose man disappeared on a voyage to Greenland. Although her mother and grandmother do not know for sure what has happened as Vera retreats into a world of silence, they care for her tenderly as it becomes apparent that she is pregnant. The result of this pregnancy is Fred, who is born 'raging' in the back of a taxi on the same day as the peace with Germany is signed (May 8th, 1945).

Later Fred is joined by his half-brother Barnum, who is the result of Vera's later marriage to a mysterious stranger, Arnold Nilsen, who turns up one day in his prized Buick, and makes her laugh. But Arnold can not be tied down - he comes and goes at will.

The two boys are raised by three generations of single mothers. We follow this maternal family as the brothers grow up, and witness how the characters stumble from one minor crisis, disaster or embarrassment to the next. Over time, more and more Fred moves to the sideline in the book, and Barnum becomes the key figure. We follow him through his friendships and into his marriage with his beloved Vivian.

The book has a wonderful mix of tragedy, black comedy, and sparkling characterization. The Half Brother tells a story of a group of people who live ordinary lives and meet the challenges ordinary people face. They handle them as well or bad as most people, I think. However, Lars Saabye Christensen shows us how every life, even those that may be viewed as ordinary ones, have moments of beauty, moments that are intruiging and rich, events of special importance, and - in short - are full of stories waiting to be told. And he tells some of those stories - with beauty and poetry.

It is beautifully structured, using its central image of a wheel to lead its readers eerily and inexorably full-circle, showing history to repeat itself and leaving in the air as many questions as it answers. To my mind, and to some other reviewers too, The Half Brother is a book of Nobel Prize quality. Go read!

Praise for The Half Brother:

«This is a great river of a book. The Half Brother is magnificent... It is like Paul Auster's The Book of Illusions meeting Jonathan Franzen's The Corrections.» —The Independent

«The Half Brother is no mere interesting example of contemporary Scandinavian writing; it's a deeply felt, intricately worked and intellectually searching work of absolutely international importance.» —The Guardian

«The Half Brother is the kind of big ambitious panoramic novel of the sort we tend to think only Americans write these days. It is part Bildungsroman - depicting the coming of age of a writer - part a Ulysses for Oslo... A big rewarding read.» —Daily Telegraph

Shyness and Dignity, by Dag Solstad

Dag Solstad is a Norwegian novelist and playwright. He has won a large number of prizes in Norway and Scandinavia. Solstad’s writing is fantastic, ranging from quick and to the point to multi-layered and subdued. Solstad actively uses sentence structures and language styles to underscore and punctuate.

Shyness and Dignity, by Dag Solastad

Shyness and Dignity (Original title: Genanse og verdighet) tells the tale of high school level literature teacher Elias Rukla in Oslo. He is a quiet, somewhat introverted man who has never made any big splashes. He teaches Norwegian Literature to students, and has done so for years. Then, one day, he has a new insight about the role of one of the characters in Henrik Ibsen’s The Wild Duck. It turns the whole interpretation of the play almost upside down. It grips him with a passion so intense that he barely notices the disinterest of his students. He feels elated and strange.

Then, a little later, he gets completely mad with anger over his umbrella, in front of all the students in the school. He leaves the schoolyard, and begins walking the city, a bit unsure of where exactly he’s headed.

Now the novel takes off. In the span over a few hours, Elias Rukla ponders, interprets and rethinks his life, in a a long, internal discourse. Solstad digs into and dissects the prior life of Rukla completely. At the core are thoughts about his aging but once very beautiful wife, Eva Linde, and their relationship. Events, relations, love, beauty, and social position are all under scrutiny. We witness the downfall of a pillar of society in a very short span of time.

Shyness and Dignity is a remarkably nuanced novel. A wonderful exploration of the makings of social identity, and an inquiry into the issues of shyness and dignity with great intellectual force. It is a brilliant portrayal of a man losing his sense of purpose and self esteem. In a short story, Dag Solstad conveys an entire age of sorrow and loss.

See also, by Dag Solstad, at amazon US: Novel 11, Book 18.
As well, you can order Dag Solstad's books from amazon UK: Shyness and Dignity and Novel 11, Book 18.

Praise for Shyness and Dignity:

"This is one of the most touching and overwhelming novels I have read in a very long time."
-- Dagsavisen, Norway

Shyness & Dignity reminded me of several of my favorite authors: … Knut Hamsun, especially Hunger, in its presentation of consciousness, so vivid that it can be said that consciousness itself is the hero. It's a novel so fresh and real that it puts the pallid exercises of contemporary American academic "authors" to shame

-- reader James Agnew
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