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It’s Women in Translation month! #WITMonth

It’s our favourite time of year again: August, and Women in Translation month! #WITMonth

To celebrate, we are enjoying reading our friends over at Swedish Book Review

…and we are making available online a truly scrumptious essay from the Swedish Book Review archives: Shaky Puddings: Fredrika Bremer’s fictional way with food and drink by Sarah Death. This essay is an abridged version of a conference paper originally delivered in Swedish, and appeared in print in the Swedish Book Review Food and Drink Supplement, 2003 (pp. 13-17). We love all sorts of puddings here at Norvik, particularly nice cool shaky ones – blancmange, jellies, panna cotta, I could go on!

Further gems from the Swedish Book Review archives are available here.

Now, where’s our hammock?!

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Trom

It’s good to see that the Faroe Islands have finally joined the Nordic noir scene! This weekend’s showing of the first episodes of Trom on BBC 4 really showcased the Faroese setting, with tiny rural settlements lashed by wind and rain, precipitous cliffs and pounding seas. And the resilient inhabitants going doggedly about their daily lives, dwarfed by the elements.

It is of course particularly exciting for Norvik Press that Jógvan Isaksen’s Walpurgis Tide, which we have published in translation, is one of the novels on which this series is based. Hannis Martinsson, Isaksen’s representative of the long line of amateur detectives who persist in solving crimes where the police are baffled, returns home to his native land after decades in Denmark, only to discover – and immediately lose – a daughter he did not know existed. Impelled to try to solve her murder, he embarks on an investigation which it is hinted will lead him to an international political conspiracy.

An extra dimension is provided in the dramatization by the use of Faroese actors in most of the parts. It is great to hear Faroese spoken here by native speakers – all except for Hannis and the police chief Karla, who speak Danish. A treat for linguists!

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An evening with Bang: part two

Panellists at the live launch of Some Would Call This Living, an anthology of Herman Bang’s writings

This is the second of two blogs reporting on our recent book launch event for an anthology of writings by Herman Bang: Some Would Call This Living. In part two, we hear from the translators.

Charlotte Barslund on her translations of short stories

While working on his short stories, I have come to appreciate just how well Bang captures the inner lives of characters who might at first sight not be regarded as worthy protagonists. He nails the stifled, impoverished lives of decent people. They try their hardest to improve their lot in life, and the few happy times they have and their lives of endless drudgery are invoked with agonising accuracy, leaving the reader with a sense of outrage and frustration at the harshness of the human condition. At the same time he is an astute, witty and entertaining observer of human nature’s less attractive sides: greed, vanity, self-importance, desire, snobbery. These themes are universal, they span generations and cultures.

As a literary translator working in commercial publishing, rather than academia, my priority was to produce translations which would make it clear why Bang is a writer who deserves wider recognition. When I encountered issues in the Danish text such as terms which nobody knew, inconsistencies in the geography in some short stories and errors in the naming of characters, I was very keen that these should be resolved and cleared up. I was surprised at how many anomalies we spotted, given that Bang had presumably had an editor for his published works. One unintentionally funny error included a heroine’s brother and love interest both being given the same name on the final few pages, which spiced up the plot no end. Either Bang’s editor wasn’t paying attention, or it was a case of not questioning what they presumed to be a divinely inspired author. However, in my experience working with 21st-century publishers, you do your authors no favours by not fixing their mistakes.

Paul Russell Garrett on Bang’s autobiographical accounts

Herman Bang was a very complex personality, who wrote in different ways in different genres. It was a stimulating part of this enterprise to be sent several collections of his texts to read, and to be able to compare solutions with other translators.

There is a great deal of humour in Bang’s autobiographical writings, sometimes at his own expense, as in his account of the lamentable reception of a tour of Bornholm he undertook with fellow artists. He can be extremely sarcastic – for example in his description of the Kaiser’s family, whose only function in life seems to be to pose for photographs – and is fond of biting understatements. Otherwise he is frequently a sympathetic observer of the different classes of society, especially those who are lower down the social scale.

He can also write very subtly, making oblique hints at events rather than explaining them fully. In ‘Expelled from Germany’, for example, he dances around the question as to why he is driven out of one place after another, leaving it to the reader to conjecture as to the cause of his discomfort.

Janet Garton on her translations

Bang’s fiction is at times problematic, even frustrating to unravel. He has often been called Denmark’s most important impressionist writer; his style is allusive and the meaning often elusive. He refers to things obliquely, giving the reader a glimpse of a person or a situation which suggests hidden depths or ambiguities which you are left to guess at. Let me give an example.

The long story ‘The Ravens’ tells of an old lady, Frøken Sejer, who is presumed to be wealthy, and is surrounded by a family who are all keen to inherit her wealth and stop her squandering it. She gives a lavish dinner for all of them, which they enjoy greedily, at the same time as wondering privately how much it has cost and counting the silver cutlery and cut-glass bowls, which seem to be mysteriously disappearing. Some of them are hoping to have her declared incapable of managing her affairs and confined to an asylum, and there is a great deal of half-concealed jostling for attention and point-scoring against perceived rivals for the inheritance, not to mention downright thieving. There are many unsubtle hints at possible strategies to worm Frøken Sejer’s money out of her, while she enjoys the whole situation hugely.

There is also a concealed homosexual thread running through the story – concealed because of course it could not be openly acknowledged in 1902. There are odd references to having some business in a kiosk, making it sound as if they are places for flirtation, whether hetero- or homosexual. One of the characters in this story, Willy Hauch, is clearly homosexual; he is introduced as being ‘polished to a shine all over’ and comes in apologising for being late because he has had ‘an errand at a kiosk’. He makes various remarks about not being the marrying kind, and during dinner he keeps an eye on Herr Lauritzen, the attractive young hired waiter, who assures Willy at one point that he has ‘many strings to my bow’. As people depart after the dinner, Willy jumps on to an electric tram and, the narrator tells us,

 suddenly spotted Herr Lauritzen …

‘Fancy meeting you here, Lauritzen,’ Willy said, ‘we’ve caught the same tram.’

‘So it would appear, Herr Hauch,’ Lauritzen replied with a nod.

No more is said, and they both leave the story at this point.

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An evening with Bang: part one

Panellists at the live launch of Some Would Call This Living, an anthology of Herman Bang’s writings

This is the first of two blogs reporting on our recent book launch event for an anthology of writings by Herman Bang: Some Would Call This Living. Part one introduces the anthology using comments from two of the panellists.

Paul Binding on the writer Herman Bang

Herman Bang was a master of very different forms of writing, although there is a thematic unity in his production which binds it all together. On the one hand, he was a superb and respected journalist with an enormous social compass, a sharp observer of social distinctions and dramatic events. In his description of the catastrophic Christiansborg fire of 1884, the immediacy of his account makes the reader feel the heat and hear the flames; in his brief recording of a fatal car accident, ‘In a Flash’, he brings home the terrible finality of violent death.

On the other hand, he also wrote many wonderful short stories and novellas, like Ved vejen (Katinka), often recording the quiet existence of those on the sidelines of life, those whose fates are normally unrecorded. This was the era of the short story, and Bang admired amongst others Maupassant and Chekhov. In a story like ‘Frøken Kaja’ he brings to life the inhabitants of a boarding house with a keen awareness of the tiny distinctions which mark out some of the boarders as being of a slightly higher class than the others.

Bang was in many ways an outsider in Danish literary circles. Although he shared many of the preoccupations of the Modern Breakthrough movement with its emphasis on realistic depictions of contemporary society, he had strained relations with its Danish leaders, Georg and Edvard Brandes – perhaps partly because of his precocious early success as a critic with Realisme og Realister, published when he was only 22. He was also an outsider because of his sexuality, being homosexual during a period when it was regarded with hostility. Despite fleeing abroad, he never achieved a harmonious relationship, perhaps because he was too complicated for anyone to be able to reciprocate fully.

The subversive nature of sexuality is a theme of many of his stories, such as ‘Les Quatre Diables’, which tells of a circus act of high-flying trapeze artists, two men and two women whose harsh early lives have led them to form an intimate bond through their act. But their work and dedication is undermined by desire, as Fritz is seduced by an aristocratic lady who saps his strength in their encounters. Here sexuality is shown to be a threat to a well-regulated society.

Dorrit Willumsen’s novel Bang (also published by Norvik Press) is one of the best ever written about a creative writer, tracing how Herman Bang was hounded across Europe, at one and the same time suffering acutely and deliberately provoking his own tragedy.

Janet Garton on the background to the publication

The story of this anthology goes back to 2018, when I was contacted by a group of Danes going by the mysterious name of De Bangske Morgenmænd (translates roughly as The Bangian Morning Men). I had not heard of them, but it transpired that they are a group of men with a passion for Herman Bang’s works and a desire to promote them, who meet every year on the morning of his birthday to celebrate his achievements. They were aware of how little Bang is known in the English-speaking world, and suggested that Norvik Press might consider publishing some of his short stories and journalism, two genres in which he excelled and which have hardly been translated into English at all. They sent us a quite long and very varied list of short stories, autobiographical pieces, journalism and letters – which is practically identical with the final contents of our volume. We were a little daunted at first by the prospect of such a large publication – a total of 170,000 words to translate – but decided that it would be a really worthwhile undertaking, if we could raise enough funding to cover the substantial costs. It helped a lot that De Bangske Morgenmænd are well connected. We were able to discuss the project in detail when I was in Copenhagen in the autumn of 2019, and as a result we applied to and received funding from Augustinus Fonden and Consul George Jorck og hustru Emma Jorck’s Fond. Professor Poul Houe from the University of Minnesota, who is one of the Morgenmænd, brought us some funding from his university as well as supplying the informative introduction. And the translations were also supported by the ever-reliable Statens Kunstfond. That is how we were able to produce this handsome volume.

Part two will delve into the translators’ experiences while working on this project. Stay tuned!

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Some Would Call This Living: An Anthology

Cover of Some Would Call This Living, an anthology of Herman Bang’s writings

Some Would Call This Living: An Anthology brings together a selection of Herman Bang’s writings – short stories, autobiographical pieces, reportage – in English translation from the original Danish.

Readers familiar with the eccentricities of Bang will enjoy having his fiction and non-fiction gems available in one handsome volume; and readers new to Bang are in for a real treat! For the Bang-curious, you can read two extracts from the Anthology below which provide a flavour of his inimitable flair across prose genres:

Short story: Extract from The Last Ballgown
Journalism: Extract from The Fire

Purchase Some Would Call This Living: An Anthology at your favourite bookshop, or here. Translated by Janet Garton, Charlotte Barslund and Paul Russell Garrett. Introduction by Poul Houe. Get more Bang for your buck by ordering our Bang Bundle with Bang: A Novel about the Danish Writer via our special offer!

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Two of our Swedish translations shortlisted for the Bernard Shaw Prize 2021

Covers of Chitambo and Crisis, the two shortlisted translations

Norvik Press are delighted to announce that two of our translators have been shortlisted for the Bernard Shaw Prize 2021:

  • Sarah Death for her translation of Chitambo by Hagar Olsson
  • Amanda Doxtater for her translation of Crisis by Karin Boye

We are immensely proud of this achievement and its potential to introduce new readers to both of these classics in Nordic modernism and feminism.

The Bernard Shaw Prize is an award for translations into English of full-length Swedish language works of literary merit and general interest. This year’s judges are Charlotte Berry and Annika Lindskog. The award is sponsored by the Embassy of Sweden, London.

The award ceremony will be held in February 2022. If you are planning on reading the shortlist in the meantime, you can read the full press release here and order copies of Chitambo and Crisis through our website or your local indie bookshop. You can also read extracts from both by revisiting our blogposts: start here for Chitambo, and here for Crisis.

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Coming soon (not with a whimper, but a Bang!)

Cover of Some Would Call This Living, our forthcoming collection of Bang’s writings

Herman Bang (1857–1912) was a sharp-witted observer of the society and manners of his age; with an eye for telling details, he could at one moment mercilessly puncture hypocrisy and arrogance, at the next invoke indignant sympathy for the outcasts and failures of a ruthlessly competitive world. In his novels and especially in his short stories he often takes as his protagonist an unremarkable character who might be dismissed by a casual observer as uninteresting: a failed ballet dancer who scrapes a living as a peripatetic dance teacher in outlying villages (‘Irene Holm’), or a lodging-house-keeper’s daughter who toils from dawn to dusk to make ends meet (‘Frøken Caja’). He can also make wicked fun of pretensions and plots, as in ‘The Ravens’, where the family of the aging Frøken Sejer are scheming to have her declared incapable, whilst she is selling off her valuables behind their backs to cheat them of their inheritance. His wide-ranging journalism has many targets, alerting readers to the wretched poverty hidden just a few steps from the thriving city shops or the ineptitude of Europe’s ruling houses – as well as celebrating the innovations of the modern age, such as the automobile or the department store.
Bang was well known throughout Europe in his lifetime, especially in Germany, where his works were translated early. In the English-speaking world he has had little impact, partly no doubt because of his homosexuality, for which he was hounded across Europe. Even now, only a couple of his novels have been translated. This volume is an attempt to remedy this lack by introducing a broad selection of his short stories and journalism to a new public.

Some Would Call This Living: An Anthology. Translated by Janet Garton, Charlotte Barslund and Paul Russell Garrett. Introduction by Poul Houe. Forthcoming February 2022get more Bang for your buck by ordering our Bang Bundle with Bang: A Novel about the Danish Writer via our special offer!

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Norwegian gems

Professor Janet Garton, a Director of Norvik Press, recently gave a talk on a selection of our Norwegian novels in translation. You can watch her presentation below.

Video showcasing our favourite Norwegian gems

The gems under discussion are:

Click on the links in the book titles to find out more about each of these treasures!

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A sisterhood of necessity

Members of the Lotta Svärd organization, Finland’s equivalent of the Swedish lottor, prepare food for Finnish volunteers on a clearance camp shortly before the Continuation War (1941). Credit: Uusi Suomi.

As part of our celebration of Women in Translation Month, Sarah Death introduces an extract from The Angel House, the third part of Norvik’s recently republished Katrineholm series. 

Kerstin Ekman’s central project in this quartet of novels was to depict the lives of women in a world run by men, the ‘town within the town’. The four books have become known collectively as Kvinnorna och staden, generally translated as ‘Women and the City’, and are a portrait of the town of Katrineholm in periods both before and after it gained its official city status in 1917.  It is barely more than a collection of fields and hamlets as the first novel opens and as the series unfolds we see it develop into a bustling town and thriving railway hub.

Women are not only the beating heart of Kerstin Ekman’s quartet, they are also the community’s backbone, a vital component of its workforce. We often see them labouring away on their own, as in our extract about Ingeborg Ek (see Linda Schenck’s recent post: ‘Round and round we go’). That dust keeps collecting on the furniture, those berries keep ripening and are crying out to be preserved for the winter, those nappies need an urgent wash. Individual women even labour in the night, be it nursing a new baby, setting dough and baking bread, making sweets to sell at your market stall, or hemming a frock to meet a dressmaking deadline.   Sometimes they are worn out, numb, at the end of their tether, sometimes desperately lonely, and sometimes they are relieved to be left in peace.

But there are also many scenes in the books of women working together, living in what we might call a sisterhood of necessity. This can be at an everyday level, sharing the privies and backyards, looking after the children, watering the communal gardens, feeding the cats, keeping an eye on each other’s washing and slipping through the hedge or across the stairwell to borrow a cup of sugar.  It can be at the level of individual friendships, many of which we see flourishing, like the one between Ingrid and Maud who enjoy their nights out dancing even though there is a war on. It can be in small clusters, like the group of elderly ladies, Tora, Ebba and a few other good friends who come together for a weekly whist evening and a comforting chat over beer, coffee and sandwiches as they try to come to terms with old age.

And it can be on a larger scale, the most notable example being the lottor, the Women’s Defence Volunteers, roped in from diverse walks of life to perform the heroic feat of feeding and watering the troops whose trains pull up at the station platform at any time of day or night. Dog-tired, possibly after a day’s work in their regular jobs, they drag themselves through their shifts and – rather to their own surprise – forge a precarious kind of solidarity that becomes increasingly precious to them, a bulwark against war, loneliness and all the other trials of life.

Click on the book cover below to read the extract.

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Round and round we go…

Delicious drottningsylt. Credit: Ove Lindfors.

As part of our celebration of Women in Translation Month, Linda Schenck introduces an extract from The Spring, the second part of Norvik’s recently republished Katrineholm series. 

The years have their cycles, and we our rituals. Never have they become more distinct than during the course of the ongoing 2020–21 pandemic. Kerstin Ekman’s writing also has its cycles, and with Norvik Press having republished the Women and the City tetralogy they, too, have become increasingly distinct. The echoes of previous books in the later ones, the return of places, names and rituals. So I find myself writing this little introduction to a section smack in the middle of The Spring, book two of Women and the City, at the same time as I am reading and rereading her forthcoming novel, Löpa varg (roughly ‘Wolf Run’), set for publication in September 2021. I hope this brief text may serve both as a look back, and a bit of a forward teaser, no spoilers.

The extract below features Ingeborg Ek, foster mother to Ingrid. Ingrid comes from a household where there is just barely enough money to pay the rent and put porridge on the table (often for breakfast and dinner), so we partly imagine her moving into the home of ‘one of the most industrious, most thorough people on earth’ who ‘never made a hollandaise sauce with fewer than ten yolks’ and whose life is regimented by seasons, rituals and their demands (with no mention of their pleasures), and partly see her through the narrator’s eyes. Ingeborg ‘regularly wore herself out at Christmas time’, baked the seasonal cakes for every holiday, spent the summer making jams and jellies, and before she knew it the next Christmas was over, leaving ‘candle wax on the runners, pine needles on the carpet, cigar ash on the sofa and rings on the tabletop from glasses’.

In Ekman’s 2021 novel, the female protagonist, Inga, lives in rural Hälsingland and makes an orange marmalade that takes three days, prompting her husband to comment: ‘You can only find the kind of time you need to make marmalade like that up here.’ But she does her chores out of love, and even recruits her husband, a thought that would never have occurred to Ingeborg Ek. He tells the reader: ‘In the spring light everything was suddenly visible: greasy fingerprints on cupboard doors, limescale stains in the bathroom, cobwebs by the ceiling cornices. Inga swished through the whole house at a mad pace but quite cheerfully, armed with cleaning agents, mops, rags and scrubby sponges. She assigned me to deal with the bookcases.’

Hence, what goes around comes around, in the calendar, in Ekman’s texts, and in our lives. I’m heading out into the woods now. If there are ripe blueberries, I will be able to make raspberry and blueberry jam tonight, the kind the Swedes call the queen of jams, drottningsylt.