Bannlyst is one of Selma Lagerlöf’s most thought-provoking works, and the latest addition to our Lagerlöf in English series, translated by Linda Schenk as Banished.
Lagerlöf was a hugely popular writer in her time, but the publication of Bannlyst in 1918 cost her a great deal of anxiety for two reasons. First of all, she had been suffering from a writer’s block that made it harder for her than usual to be creative and finish her project; and secondly, the theme of her new novel was highly controversial. Because of the time in which this novel was written, namely during World War 1, and the fact that Lagerlöf was a committed pacifist, she wanted to write something to raise the public’s morale. Her aim was to make people aware of the double standard existing in war times that allows killing to be viewed as permissible and let death trump the value of life. War is terrible and should not be glorified. So to make her point, Lagerlöf wrote a story about a polar expedition gone awry and about cannibalism. Is eating a dead man in order to preserve life the worst thing you can do?
Banished is split into three parts, each of which concerns matters of life and death. The first part is about the hero of the story, the explorer Sven Elvesson, and his dilemma as to whether to consume the corpse of his companion or become a corpse himself. His past follows him back to his home village on Grimsön, where he faces judgement and aversion when the truth about what happened during the polar expedition is revealed. The second part of the novel concerns the abusive marriage of the beautiful Sigrun and the local minister Edvard Rhånge. Edvard’s poisonous jealousy is harmful, and Sigrun needs to be cunning and wilful in her struggle for survival and freedom. In the third and final part, the people of Grimsö are forced to open their eyes to reality as they encounter a myriad of dead sailors in the sea after the Battle of Jutland. It is one of the book’s most memorable passages and can be counted among the most powerful literary responses to war in the twentieth century. Read an extract here.
Banished is a thematic heavyweight that unfortunately never seems to lose its relevance. We do not have to look far nowadays to find the glorification of war. Lagerlöf encourages us to take a stand against heinous acts of violence and killing and teaches us that human life is sacrosanct.
We are celebrating the launch of our latest translation at the Print Room at the Coronet, 13th April 2018, 8pm. There, the novel will be brought to life with a dramatic reading by UK actors Anna Winslet, Edmund Harcourt and Chris McKeeman, accompanied with music by Villu Veski and Tiit Kalluste. Afterwards you can enjoy an in-depth conversation between the author of the original, Ilmar Taska, and award-winning journalist Rosie Goldsmith.
Pobeda 1946 is a fascinating evocation of Estonian life under Soviet occupation. Told through the eyes of a young boy it brilliantly captures the distrust and fear that was felt by so many Estonians after World War II. Read more about the book and Ilmar Taska in this earlier blog post.
We are launching Pobeda 1946 at the Estonian Literature Festival, an extension of the London Book Fair to celebrate the centenary of Estonian independence. It will be a weekend devoted to some of Estonia’s finest writers and writings, packed to the brim with poetry, music, panel discussions and more. In addition, all tickets to the fair also include traditional Estonian snacks and drinks for a fully immersive Estonian experience.
a parable of redemption as well as a powerful piece of social critique – Märt Väljataga, Estonian Literature Centre
The Misadventures of the New Satan, now out in a reprinted edition, is a mythical tale by one of Estonia’s best-known writers – Anton Tammsaare, born Anton Hansen.
Tammsaare was born in 1878, and although he was the son of an Estonian farmer, he himself was not content with cultivating the earth. He was more interested in philosophy and psychology, but his education at the University of Tartu was cut short when he was diagnosed with tuberculosis and had to travel to a sanatorium in the Caucasus for treatment. After his recovery, Tammsaare published what is considered to be the single greatest masterpiece of Estonian literature: Tõde ja õigus, or Trust and Justice (1926–1933). This five-volume epic depicts Estonia’s development through the ages – from tsarist province to independent state. Each volume tells the story of one of man’s struggles: beginning with the struggle with the earth, then God, then society, then himself – and when it all ends, man has given in to resignation. It is highly philosophical and deals with some of the same questions that occupied the minds of Tammsaare’s contemporaries, such as Thomas Mann and John Galsworthy.
Although Tammsaare was a realist, he did not shy away from using allegorical fantasy in his writings. Most notably, this can be found in The Misadventures of the New Satan. Here, Tammsaare lets Satan be put on earth as the farmer Jürka. Satan is faced with a problem as God has come to the conclusion that humans should be spared the eternal damnation of hell since he suspects them to be incapable of salvation in the first place. In order to preserve his kingdom of death, Satan has to prove that a righteous life is possible for mere human beings. This satirical mythological novel, published in 1939, was the last book Tammsaare wrote before he died, and has proven to be an enduring classic of European literature.
Norvik Press first published this folkloric novel in 2009. The new 2018 edition is illustrated by a hauntingly beautiful cover image by Olenka Kotyk and is translated by Olga Shartze and Christopher Moseley.
This week at we celebrate one hundred years of the Republic of Estonia by immersing ourselves in Estonian literature. Norvik is proud to have published works by several Estonian authors. Viivi Luik’s TheBeauty of History and Ilmar Taska’s newly published debut novel Pobeda 1946: A Car Called Victory transport us to life under Soviet occupation, while Anton Tammsaare’s satire The Misadventures of the New Satan is an enduring classic of European literature. Pick up a copy to celebrate the Estonian Centennial.
In Tallinn in 1946 a young boy is transfixed by the beauty of a luxurious cream-coloured car gliding down the street. It is a Russian Pobeda, a car called Victory. The sympathetic driver invites the boy for a ride and enquires about his family. Soon the boy’s father disappears. Ilmar Taska’s debut novel captures the distrust and fear among Estonians living under Soviet occupation after World War II. The reader is transported to a world seen through the eyes of a young boy, where it is difficult to know who is right and who is wrong, be they occupiers or occupied. Resistance fighters, exiles, informants and torturers all find themselves living in Stalin’s long shadow.
The Misadventures of the New Satan
Translated by Christopher Moseley and Olga Shartze
Satan has a problem: God has come to the conclusion that it is unfair to send souls to hell if they are fundamentally incapable of living a decent life on earth. If this is the case, then hell will be shut down, and the human race written off as an unfortunate mistake. Satan is given the chance to prove that human beings are capable of salvation – thus ensuring the survival of hell – if he agrees to live as a human being and demonstrate that it is possible to live a righteous life. St Peter suggests that life as a farmer might offer Satan the best chance of success, because of the catalogue of privations he will be forced to endure. And so Satan ends up back on earth, living as Jürka, a great bear of a man, the put-upon tenant of a run-down Estonian farm. His patience and good nature are sorely tested by the machinations of his scheming, unscrupulous landlord and the social and religious hypocrisy he encounters.
Riga. News of the Prague Spring washes across Europe, causing ripples on either side of the Iron Curtain. A young Estonian woman has agreed to pose as a model for a famous sculptor, who is trying to evade military service and escape to the West. Although the model has only a vague awareness of politics – her interest in life is primarily poetic – the consequences of the politics of both past and present repeatedly make themselves felt. Chance remarks overheard prompt memories of people and places, language itself becomes fluid, by turns deceptive and reassuring. The Beauty of History is a novel of poetic intensity, of fleeting moods and captured moments. It is powerfully evocative of life within the Baltic States during the Soviet occupation, and of the challenge to artists to express their individuality whilst maintaining at least an outward show of loyalty to the dominant ideology. Written on the cusp of independence, as Estonia and Latvia sought to regain their sovereignty in 1991, this is a novel that can be seen as an historic document – wistful, unsettling, and beautiful.
It has been a long wait for a new translation of The Emperor of Portugallia but now it is here, to delight Selma Lagerlöf fans old and new. Translated by Peter Graves, it is the latest addition to our ‘Lagerlöf in English’ series, which was launched in 2011 with the aim of making the works of Selma Lagerlöf readily available to English-language readers in new, top-quality translations. Previously published titles in the series include: The Löwensköld Ring (2011), The Phantom Carriage (2011), Lord Arne’s Silver (2011), Nils Holgersson’s Wonderful Journey through Sweden (2013), A Manor House Tale (2015), Charlotte Löwensköld (2015), Mårbacka (2016) and Anna Svärd (2016).
The Emperor of Portugallia is a tale of the bond between parents and children; of the expectations that lie in the roles of the different family members and the conflicted feelings tied to these. The main character of the novel, who adopts the title Emperor of Portugalla as he later descends into madness, is Jan, a poor farm labourer. He becomes a father at quite a late age and, rather to his surprise, finds himself thrilled and overwhelmed with love for his baby daughter. His daughter Klara is a wilful and clever child, and their bond grows stronger as she grows older. When she reaches the age of 17, Jan finds himself in huge debt through no fault of his own, and Klara offers to help by going to the big city, Stockholm, to work and earn the money the family desperately needs. Klara leaves, and so does Jan’s sanity. He creates a fantasy world for himself; a world where his alter ego the Emperor of Portugallia resides with the Empress Klara. Despite the seeming madness of this world, it functions as a cradle of support for Jan and provides surprising insight.
This novel has been described as perhaps the most private of Selma Lagerlöf’s books. At the core of the story, we find the relationship of father and daughter – a theme Lageröf frequently returns to in her works. For this particular tragic novel, the theme led her to consider ‘a Swedish King Lear’ as a possible title. The Emperor of Portugallia, then, is a novel that explores the family and the rights and duties in the relationship between parents and children. It has been described as ‘a sermon on the fourth commandment’ – ‘Honour thy father and thy mother, as the Lord thy God has commanded thee’.
Selma Lagerlöf was a popular writer during her lifetime, and when Kejsarn av Portugallien was published in 1914, it was quickly translated into an array of languages. In fact, translations of Lagerlöf’s works exist in close to fifty languages. Most of her novels were translated into English during her lifetime. But the interrelations between nations and cultures change over time, and the same is true of language and of approaches to translation. That is why it is important to renew translations and inject new life into old classics over the course of time. Each Norvik Lagerlöf volume has a ‘Translator’s Afterword’ in which a range of issues encountered by the translator can be highlighted – an aspect of the volumes that also adds to their usefulness in teaching.
Back in 1916, Velma Swanston Howard was responsible for the English translation of Kejsarn of Portugallien. She was an American of Swedish origin and by far the most prolific early translator of Lagerlöf’s works; many of her translations have been repeatedly republished up to the present day. Without her work and dedication, Lagerlöf’s novels might not have been available to English readers. But language inevitably evolves, and it was high time for a new English version of this moving classic. We hope you will enjoy it!
The centenary of voting rights for women in the United Kingdom is today, 6 February, and will be marked with commemorative events round the country in coming weeks and months. The Representation of the People Act 1918 enabled all men and some women over the age of 30 to vote for the first time and paved the way for universal suffrage 10 years later.
So there is no better time to remind readers about our English translation of Elin Wägner’s Penwoman, the classic novel of the Swedish women’s suffrage movement, written in 1910 amid the hopes, fears, triumphs and setbacks of campaigning.
The novel, whose central character is a young female journalist, offers exceptional insights into the dedicated work and strong sense of sisterhood uniting a group of women campaigning for suffrage. But it also explores a range of other issues affecting the situation of women in Sweden at the time, from the role of paid work to matters of morality, eroticism and love. The refreshingly disrespectful and witty style has helped make the novel one of Wägner’s most enduringly popular.
We still have some copies of this hard to find novel in our office. Please email email@example.com to get hold of one.
We’ve come to that time of the year where the only sensible thing to do is to snuggle up under a blanket in the biggest, comfiest chair you can find, and get yourself something hot to drink and a good book. Well, we don’t do blankets, but we can help with the book part! At Norvik, we’ve put together a seasonal recommended reading list of our treasures fit for winter. These are perfect as stocking fillers for friends and family, or why not treat yourself for a few hours in that comfy chair during what the Swedes call mellandagarna (the days between Christmas and New Year)? Click on the link in each title below to visit our website for more information on the books, and how to buy.
This spirited and at times sinister novel ensnares the reader in a tangled encounter between modern-day Scandinavia and the ancient world of myth. In the 1980s, a hardworking Icelandic businesswoman and her teenage daughter Dís, who has been arrested for apparently committing a strange and senseless robbery, are unwittingly drawn into a ritual-bound world of goddesses, sacrificial priests, golden thrones and kings-in-waiting. It is said that Gunnlöth was seduced by Odin so he could win the ‘mead’ of poetry from her, but is that really true, and why was Dís summoned to their world?
Wilfred – alias Little Lord – is a privileged young man growing up in upper-class society in Kristiania (now Oslo) during the halcyon days before the First World War. Beneath the strikingly well-adjusted surface, however, runs a darker current; he is haunted by the sudden death of his father and driven to escape the stifling care of his mother for risky adventures in Kristiania’s criminal underworld. The two sides of his personality must be kept separate, but the strain of living a double life threatens breakdown and catastrophe. This best-selling novel by Johan Borgen, one of Norway’s most talented twentieth-century writers, is also an evocative study of a vanished age of biplanes, variety shows, and Viennese psychiatry.
29 January 1912. In a train compartment in Ogden, Utah, a Danish author was found unconscious. The 54-year-old Herman Bang was en route from New York to San Francisco as part of a round-the-world reading tour. It was a poignant end for a man whose life had been spent on the move. Having fled his birthplace on the island of Als ahead of the Prussian advance of 1864, he was later hounded out of Copenhagen, Berlin, Vienna and Prague by homophobic laws and hostility to his uncompromising social critique as journalist, novelist, actor and dramaturge. Dorrit Willumsen re-works Bang’s life story in a series of compelling flashbacks that unfold during his last fateful train ride across the USA. Along the way, we are transported to an audience in St Petersburg with the Dowager Empress Maria Feodorovna, to a lovers’ nest in a flea-ridden Prague boarding house, to the newsrooms and variety theatres of fin-de-siècle Copenhagen, and to a Norwegian mountainside, where Claude Monet has come to paint snow and lauds Bang’s writing as literary impressionism.
A richly-illustrated one-volume hardback edition of Selma Lagerlöf’s classic tale. This novel started out as a commissioned school reader designed to present the geography of Sweden to nine-year-olds, but Lagerlöf’s work quickly won international fame and popularity, which it still enjoys over a century later. It is a fantastic story of a naughty boy who climbs on the back of a gander and is then carried the length of the country, learning both geography and good behaviour as he goes. It is a story of Sweden, where every province has its tale and out of the many fantasies, a diverse country emerges; a country of the great and the grand, majestic nature and lords and ladies, but also a country of farmers and fishers, goose-herds and Sami, miners and loggers, and of animals – rats and eagles and elk, foxes and geese and all the other creatures who are part of the life cycle of the land.
A House in Norway tells the story of Alma, a divorced textile artist who makes a living from weaving standards for trade unions and marching bands. She lives alone in an old villa, and rents out an apartment in her house to supplement her income. She is overjoyed to be given a more creative assignment, to design a tapestry for an exhibition to celebrate the centenary of women’s suffrage in Norway, but soon finds that it is a much more daunting task than she had anticipated. Meanwhile, a Polish family moves into her apartment, and their activities become a challenge to her unconscious assumptions and her self-image as a good feminist and an open-minded liberal. Is it possible to reconcile the desire to be tolerant and altruistic with the imperative need for creative and personal space?
Kerstin Ekman’s wonderful poem Childhood is presented here as a dual language English/Swedish publication illustrated with original photographs provided by the author. Kerstin Ekman is primarily known as a novelist, but she has occasionally turned to free verse, especially when the subject is autobiographical. In 1993-1994, Swedish TV 1 conducted a series of talks with prominent writers under the rubric ‘Seven Boys and Seven Girls’. In place of an ordinary interview, Kerstin Ekman read aloud Barndom (Childhood). The prose passages are quotations from Ekman’s 1988 novel Rövarna i Skuleskogen (The Forest of Hours).
Also by Kerstin Ekman is the novel The Angel House, in which Ekman provides an alternative, subversive history of the community in which she grew up. It is a story that stretches through a century, told through the perspective of the generation of women living in those times:
A giant had a washbowl which he set down in the forest at the base of a moraine. It was made of granite and deeply indented, and he filled it with clear, amber water which looked like solidified resin when the sun shone on it on a summer’s afternoon.
In winter, the top layer of the water froze into a lid and the entire bowl went very still, just like the forest around it. Then, down at its deepest point, a pattern of stripes and dashes would move. A pike, if there had been one, would have seen that it was not broken lengths of hollow reed swaying there but thousands of his brothers the perch, sluggishly and cautiously changing positions.
Across the top of the lid spun a rope-covered ball and after it, heavy but fast, skated men with clubs in their hands. They were dressed in black knee breeches and grey woollen sweaters. About half of them had black, peaked caps with both earflaps turned up and kept in place with two thin shoelaces knotted on top of their heads.
Half had red knitted hats with tassels. Sometimes one of the ones in peaked caps went whizzing off with long blade strokes, feet inclining inwards, guiding the ball in front of him with his club. If a tassel-hat got in his way, both of them would go crashing onto the rough ice near the shore, flattening the broken reeds and sending ice and coarse snow spraying round their metal blades.
Round the edge of the Giant’s Washbowl, people stood watching, virtually all men, coming so far out of town. But Ingrid Eriksson was standing there too. She stood there every winter Sunday, whenever there was a match on.
For further reading in the New Year, watch out for the brilliant Pobeda, coming very soon.
Finally, we’d like to wish all our readers a very Happy Christmas!
Bang relates the life story of the notorious author Herman Bang. The title of Willumsen’s novel might be a play on both his extravagant life and his sortie, as Bang’s life came to a sudden end while he was doing a reading tour across the USA. His last days form the back-story of Willumsen’s novel, a novel that weaves fiction and fact together in a touching and exciting portrait of an extraordinary man leading an extraordinary life (read an extract from the novel here).
Willumsen was at first supposed to write a traditional biography about Bang, and she did months of reading and researching previous biographies, his literary works and journalism and his thousands of letters, but the story fired her imagination to the extent that the book became a fictional biography, which describes Bang’s life from the inside rather than the outside. We first encounter Bang in New York, where he is starting out on his USA tour. The city is a grim, grey and loud place, according to Bang, and he is happy to board the train to escape from it, although he seems to want to escape the tour altogether. Unfortunately for Bang, the tour must go ahead, but he does find a way to escape – into his dreams. He dreams of his life, starting with his childhood: his mentally ill father and his beloved mother. Good, bad, sweet and sore memories are mixed and presented to the reader through young Herman’s eyes. As the story progresses we follow him throughout the USA, and in his flashbacks throughout his life. We get to know his youthful infatuations with young men and women, his bohemian life full of wonders but also scandals, his travels and life in different cities in Europe – from Copenhagen to St. Petersburg to Prague, and we discover the hardships he suffered as a well-known writer and a homosexual.
As well as a novelist Bang was a journalist, critic and playwright, as well as an actor and a theatre director. Because of this, he was omnipresent in Danish cultural life. He often wore eccentric clothes that shocked the conservative public, and of course, his homosexuality shocked them even more. His first novel was banned for immorality, as much for its content as for the writer himself.
But although Herman Bang was viewed as what we might now call an attention-seeking drama queen, his novels often focus on quiet, downtrodden people who do not raise their voices; people with a lack of agency; people who seem to accept the fate that society has in store for them. These stories of Stille eksistenser (Quiet Lives) are what made him a celebrated and loved author in Denmark. One example is the novel Tine from 1889. This novel interweaves the Prussian invasion of Denmark with male invasion of female innocence. Tine is a young girl who takes up the housekeeping chores at the neighbouring farm, owned by the charming and handsome Henrik Berg, who has just seen his wife and son shipped off to Copenhagen because of the war. Henrik and Tine become intimate, despite her being much younger and far below him in class – although Henrik is a decent man. Tine is inexperienced and mistakes desire for true love. This is her downfall, and when she realises that Henrik in fact never loved her, she drowns herself.
It seems that the love Bang always wrote about, was the kind of love that fails or the kind of love that cannot be fulfilled. Maybe he saw parallels with his own life, or maybe not – the kind of love that cannot be fulfilled is always novel material. He did write an essay, published in 1922, after his death, where his thoughts on his own kind of love seem rather grim. He writes that homosexuality is a harmless mistake in nature, and he expresses the hope that future medicine will not only cure homosexuality, but prevent it altogether. This tragic conclusion, in which Bang converts the hostility of his own times into a form of self-abnegation, is contextualised by an Afterword by Dag Heede, a leading Danish queer theorist.
The Nordic Council Literature Prize award ceremony will be held November 1st, and we at Norvik Press are looking forward to it with mounting excitement, especially as we have published works by two authors on the shortlist: Kirsten Thorup, nominated for Erindring omkærligheden and Vigdis Hjorth, nominated for Arv og miljø.
Norvik Press published Thorup’s The God of Chance in 2013, a story about Ana, a career-driven Danish woman, and her chance meeting with Gambian teenager Mariama. This meeting is life-changing for Ana; she sees something special in Mariama, and the girl soon becomes the family Ana never had. Because of this, Ana turns their relationship into an all-consuming personal project for herself. However, bringing Mariama into her life proves not to be easy for Ana, who has her own demons to battle, and her life quickly starts to unravel. The God of Chance is a story of opposites that depicts the gulf between European affluence and Third World poverty. Thorup is known for writing socially engaging novels that often take the perspective of the outcasts and the marginalised – and The God of Chance is another brilliant example of this.
Hjorth is the other Norvik Press published author on the shortlist. Her novel A House in Norway is one of our most recent novels. Alma, the protagonist of Hjorth’s story, is an artist who wishes to live a peaceful and undisturbed life that leaves her lots of creative space, but this peace is disturbed when she sublets the apartment in her house to a Polish couple. Alma wishes to be tolerant and open-minded, but finds that she cannot overlook the clash between cultures. A line can be drawn from the theme in this novel to Thorup’s The God of Chance; both of the main characters seemingly welcome foreignness into their lives, but only as long as it can be held at a safe distance, and when it comes too close, they cannot seem to deal with it after all.
Hjorth visited London for the book launch for A House in Norway in February this year, and delighted us all with an animated reading and a lively discussion of the book. On our SoundCloud page, you will find an audio clip from the launch of her reading from the Norwegian version of A House in Norway, accompanied by the translated extract.
That was the final straw. She didn’t get out of the car, but turned it around, drove home as fast as she could, impatiently, she could feel her heart pounding in her throat, blood roaring in her temples, all the clichés, this was how deep outrage felt, that was enough, there had to be limits, she couldn’t get home quickly enough, she had to get back while her body and her mind still felt as they did now, before it subsided even a little and she started having the slightest doubt; this time she called no one, she didn’t want to be talked out of anything or calmed down now that she was in full flow without any inhibitions; she couldn’t get home fast enough to express it, she forced the car up in the drive, parked it and ran outside and could smell burned rubber, she registered that Alan’s car wasn’t there, but even if it had been there she would still have done what she did, she ran up and banged on the door again and again because she knew they were in there, her car was in the drive and all the lights were on, she hammered on the door and didn’t stop until it was opened a little, and Alma pushed it open and stormed into the small hallway and glared at the Pole’s anxious face and her hair in old-fashioned curlers and she was wearing a singlet, of course she was, in the middle of winter. That’s enough, Alma shouted, this time you’ve gone too far, she yelled, you bloody well move out now!
We wish our authors the best of luck for the ceremony!