Posted by: koolwine | May 2, 2010

Norway: Out Stealing Horses

Country: Norway

Local Name: Kongeriket Norge (Kingdom of Norway) in Bokmål Norwegian

Norway is one of the top three most peaceful countries in the world (2007-2009)
-The Global Peace Index

Norwegians enjoy the highest standard of living in the world (2004-2009)
-United Nations Human Development Index

Title: Out Stealing Horses

Author: Per Petterson (Norwegian); Translated by Anne Born

Published: 2003  Pages: 238

Acclaim: New York Times Book Review One of the 10 Best Books of the Year; A Time Magazine Best Book of the Year; Winner of the IMPAC Dublin Literary Award; Winner of the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize, winner of the Norwegian Booksellers’ Prize

Time Period: 1940s and 1999

Summary: After a surprise encounter with his new neighbor late at night, a man living in the remote Norwegian woods is reminded of tragic events during the summer he was 15, and of his father’s secret life as a courier for the Allies during World War II.  The novel drifts between the past and the present.

My opinion: Sleep-inducing.   No clear plot; much of the book describes rural living: cutting and harvesting hay, chainsawing logs, lighting the woodburning stove, zzzzzz…  When a writer has all of his basic needs taken care of by a government that is seldom at war, does there end up being very little to write about?

Nevertheless, Petterson does write some passages that I thought notable enough to copy down; if only the story really had been about stealing horses I might have enjoyed it more.

Very little sense of Norway was imparted – maybe due to the translation – except that most Norwegians (at least the ones living near the border with Sweden) drive Volvos and use Jonsered brand chainsaws.

In my book (or, how Norway has influenced me and maybe you, too)

Although I read the fairy tale “3 Goats Gruff” multiple times as a child, I was just recently reminded that it was Norwegian.  In case your memory is spotty or you are unfamiliar with the story: three goats are barred passage across a bridge by a troll who threatens to eat them.

Trolls are popular in Norway.  Norway’s most famous composer, Edvard Grieg, named his home Troldhagen or “Troll’s Hill.”  I first heard Grieg’s  “Morning Mood” in a Warner Bros. cartoon when I was kid and took an immediate liking to it.  The melody was a favorite of mine for years even though I knew nothing of Grieg or his Peer Gynt Suite and rarely heard the piece played.  I can’t bring to mind a specific cartoon that features this composition (I believe there were several), but will forever associate it with the animation of a sleepy animal slowly waking up in a field at sunrise.

I didn’t need to take a college art history class (although I did – two of them) to be familiar with The Scream, a disturbing and instantly recognizable painting by another famous Norwegian “Edvard” – Edvard Munch.  Munch created four versions of the pop culture icon-to-be.  Good thing he painted some spares – the painting made headlines in 1994 and again in 2004 when the National Gallery of Norway and Oslo’s Munch Museum had their versions stolen, respectively.  Both works were later recovered.

Anyone who’s read Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy will remember Svalbard as the home of Iorek Byrnison, the Armored Bear.  Although the trilogy cuts back and forth between the real world and a parallel one, Svalbard is an actual Norwegian archipelago that sits halfway between the mainland and the North Pole. As you can see from this sign, polar bears do roam the area .  I thought the first two books in the series were unique, imaginative and rip-roaring, but was terribly disappointed by the third which  devolved into a disappointing mix of Harlequin romance and bizarre religion.

Well, as they say at the end of  “3 Goats Gruff”:
Snap, snap, snout.  This tale’s told out.

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