My Nordic-Scandinavian travel dreams were put into hold because of the pandemic, and one way I am doing to cope with it in the meantime was reading books about the region to travel virtually. That being said, I compiled 6 Penguin Modern Classic books about Nordic and Scandinavia that everyone should read!
Check out my other book-related blog entries here.
The Half-Finished Heaven
The contemporary Swedish poet Tomas Tranströmer is a recipient of the Nobel Prize in Literature and has a prestigious worldwide reputation. Robert Bly, a longtime friend and confidant of Tranströmer’s, as well as one of his first translators, has carefully chosen and translated the finest of Tranströmer’s poems to create this cherished and invaluable collection.
The Unknown Soldier is a story about the Continuation War between Finland and Soviet Union, told from the viewpoint of ordinary Finnish soldiers. Gritty and realistic, it was partly intended to shatter the myth of the noble, obedient Finnish soldier, and in that it succeeded admirably.
In Isak Dinesen’s universe, the magical enchantment of the fairy tale and the moral resonance of myth coexist with an unflinching grasp of the most obscure human strengths and weaknesses. A despairing author abandons his wife, but in the course of a long night’s wandering, he learns love’s true value and returns to her, only to find her a different woman than the one he left. A landowner, seeking to prove a principle, inadvertently exposes the ferocity of mother love. A wealthy young traveler melts the hauteur of a lovely woman by masquerading as her aged and loyal servant.
Shimmering and haunting, Dinesen’s Winter’s Tales transport us, through their author’s deft guidance of our desire to imagine, to the mysterious place where all stories are born.
OUT OF AFRICA
‘Out of Africa’ is Isak Dinesen’s memoir of her years in Africa, from 1914 to 1931, on a four-thousand-acre coffee plantation in the hills near Nairobi. She had come to Kenya from Denmark with her husband, and when they separated she stayed on to manage the farm by herself, visited frequently by her lover, the big-game hunter Denys Finch-Hatton, for whom she would make up stories “like Scheherazade.”
In Africa, “I learned how to tell tales,” she recalled many years later. “The natives have an ear still. I told stories constantly to them, all kinds.” Her account of her African adventures, written after she had lost her beloved farm and returned to Denmark, is that of a master storyteller, a woman whom John Updike called “one of the most picturesque and flamboyant literary personalities of the century.”
Isak Dinesen (1885-1962_ was born Karen Christence Dinesen in Rungsted, Denmark. She wrote poems, plays, and stories from an early age, including ‘Seven Gothic Tales’, ‘Winter’s Tales’, ‘Last Tales’, ‘Anecdotes of Destiny’, ‘Shadows on the Grass’ and ‘Ebrengard’. ‘Out of Africa’ is considered her masterpiece.
CHILDHOOD, YOUTH, DEPENDENCY
Tove Ditlevsen is today celebrated as one of the most important and unique voices in twentieth-century Danish literature, and The Copenhagen Trilogy (1969-71) is her acknowledged masterpiece.
Childhood tells the story of a misfit child’s single-minded determination to become a poet; Youth describes her early experiences of sex, work, and independence. Dependency picks up the story as the narrator embarks on the first of her four marriages and goes on to describe her horrible descent into drug addiction, enabled by her sinister, gaslighting doctor-husband.
Throughout, the narrator grapples with the tension between her vocation as a writer and her competing roles as daughter, wife, mother, and drug addict, and she writes about female experience and identity in a way that feels very fresh and pertinent to today’s discussions around feminism.
Ditlevsen’s trilogy is remarkable for its intensity and its immersive depiction of a world of complex female friendships, family and growing up–in this sense, it’s Copenhagen’s answer to Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan Novels. She can also be seen as a spiritual forerunner of confessional writers like Karl Ove Knausgaard, Annie Ernaux, Rachel Cusk and Deborah Levy. Her trilogy is drawn from her own experiences but reads like the most compelling kind of fiction.
Born in a working-class neighborhood in Copenhagen in 1917, Ditlevsen became famous for her poetry while still a teenager, and went on to write novels, stories and memoirs before committing suicide in 1976. Having been dismissed by the critical establishment in her lifetime as a working-class, female writer, she is now being rediscovered and championed as one of Denmark’s most important modern authors, with Tove fever gripping readers.
It’s Copenhagen, 1968. Lise, a children’s book writer and married mother of three, is becoming increasingly haunted by disembodied faces and taunting voices. Convinced that her housekeeper and husband are plotting against her, she descends into a terrifying world of sickness, pills and institutionalisation. But is sanity in fact a kind of sickness? And might mental illness itself lead to enlightenment?
Brief, intense and haunting, Ditlevsen’s novel recreates the experience of madness from the inside, with all the vividness of lived experience.