Tag Archives: Danish

Elastic by Johanne Bille. Translated from the Danish by Sherilyn Hellberg

Elastic by Johanne Bille Title: Elastic
Author: Johanne Bille
Translated from the Danish by Sherilyn Hellberg
Publisher: Lolli Editions
ISBN: 978-1-9999928-0-4
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 161
Source: Publisher/Marketing Agency
Rating: 4 stars

Elastic by Johanne Bille is a book that just made its way to me at the right time. Women in Translation was coming up and a marketing agency offered me a chance to read it as a part of the Blog/Instagram tour and I jumped on it. I jumped on the opportunity because it seemed liked a read that I would most certainly enjoy, and I am so glad that it surpassed every single expectation.

Elastic is literally a book for the times we live in. Mathilde is the core of Alice’s existence. Mathilde’s force is so strong that everything changes. It is the kind of love and lust that is self-destructive and redemptive at the same time. A love that perhaps you encounter once in a lifetime. Mathilde on the other hand is also quite mercurial and happily married to Alexander. Alice is moving into a bigger flat with Simon who is back in her life. And thus, starts a relationship of four people – of love, sex, intimacy, jealousy, and the workings of the human heart.

Bille’s writing sets the tone from the very beginning. The open love affairs, the choices one makes in love, and also the satisfaction and loneliness arising from it are beautifully explored. The entire book is told through fragments and it works brilliantly for a novel of this theme and magnitude.

Elastic is the kind of book that must be read in one go and perhaps that’s the only way to read it. It defines the current emotional state of people so well that you might just identify yourself with one of the characters. It felt like I was reading the movie Closer – the same intensity but less brutal. Bille’s writing and Hellberg’s translation were a match waiting to happen. Read Elastic. Be taken in by what happens when love washes over you and doesn’t let go.


So Much for That Winter by Dorthe Nors

so-much-for-that-winter-by-dorthe-nors Title: So Much for That Winter
Author: Dorthe Nors
Translator: Misha Hoekstra
Publisher: Graywolf Press
ISBN: 978-1555977429
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 160
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

I love it when authors break boundaries of traditional storytelling and present ideas in a new way. Dorthe Nors, a Danish writer does just that. She breaks the norms of telling a tale and how. Her new book (second one) titled “So Much for That Winter” consists of two novellas, of two women sifting through the fallout of respective breakups.

In the first novella, “Minna Needs a Rehearsal Space” – Nors writes the novella in the form of sparse headlines. Minna gets dumped on a text and the novella is about her being consoled by everyone around her – Minna’s mission though is to escape them all, especially her sister. I loved the way it was written. It is raw, brutal and funny – all at the same time. Nors could have very well written her own story. She could be Minna you know.

The second novella “Days” is about another breakup in the form of lists – of how a writer fills her time post break-up. Through both these novellas, I got a very uncanny sense of how nothing might be relevant in our endless age of tweets, updates and Instagram posts. Even heartbreak for that matter. I finished both these novellas in one go and honestly, I have not felt this disoriented in a long time after reading a book. Nors’ writing speaks to you and you can sense it crawling up your back and somehow you enjoy it. You are perhaps also taken in with all the reality but also somehow make peace with it.

Also, let me not forget that this experience would not have been possible without Misha Hoekstra’s wondrous translation of these novellas. “So Much for That Winter” deals in being human above everything else. These two novellas complement each other superbly and one cannot be read without the other. Nors has created a strewn about, lush, hurtful, real and beautiful love-letter of our times.

Book Review: The Murder of Halland by Pia Juul

The Murder of Halland by Pia Juul Title: The Murder of Halland
Author: Pia Juul
Translator: Martin Aitken
Publisher: Peirene Press
ISBN: 978-0-9562840-7-5
Genre: Small Epic Series, Crime Fiction, Novella
Pages: 167
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

I have suddenly taken a liking to murder mysteries. More so to the ones that are written tautly and impeccably. Off late, the publishing history has witnessed a lot of thriller writers from the Scandinavian region. I have enjoyed most of these novelists’ works. The one that I recently read was of a Danish writer, Pia Juul, who I hadn’t heard of earlier. The book that I read was, “The Murder of Halland” and here is my review.

Bess and Halland are a couple. They live in a town where everyone knows them. The town is Danish and is not mentioned in the book. One fine day, Halland is found dead during dawn and close to him. No one knows how he died. A neighbour tells the police that Halland informed him that Bess killed him. Bess denies it. The story continues about Bess’s grief. The way her past tumbles through the pages and more so Halland’s past as well. That is the crux of the story.

What makes this book so different is that this is not your traditional crime novel. There are the police and detectives investigating for sure, however they are not at the core of the book. The story is a love story and at the same time there are so many layers to it. At times, I found myself confused considering the pace at which things were happening – the appearance of Bess’s ex-husband, Halland’s pregnant so-called niece, the neighbours – it almost become difficult to string everything together and that is when I began enjoying the book a lot more.

The translation by Martin Aitken is flawless only because I could imagine the places and the scenery just the way I am sure Ms. Juul intends her readers to. The words are direct, the sentences sometimes feel sparse and the narrative might also seem slow to some, however what makes the book so wonderful is precisely all of those qualities. Ms. Juul does not spoon-feed her readers. There is always more to what meets the eye and that is the beauty of this book and the writing. I finished the book in one sitting and that is how I am sure most of the people who want to read this one will read it. For me, it was a great way to start December.

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Book Review: The Elephant Keepers Children by Peter HØeg

Title: The Elephant Keepers’ Children
Author: Peter HØeg
Publisher: Harvill Secker
ISBN: 978-1-846-55585-5
Genre: Literary Fiction, Translated Works
Pages: 392
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

Danish writer, Peter HØeg is well known for his book, “Miss Smilla’s Sense of Snow” which has also been made to a critically acclaimed film. I have read the book twice and could not wait for his new book to release. “The Elephant Keeper’s Children” is nothing like Miss Smilla’s Sense of Snow and that is what I loved about the writer when it came to this book. The book has everything – drama, humour, mystery, faith, odd-ball characters and coming-of-age plot as well.

Peter and Tilte are two kids who are trying to track down their parents, who are going to be a part of a big criminal activity. The problem is that their parents are already two criminals. They are the pastor and the organist of the only church on the tiny island of FinØ (fictional but of course). Their parents are known to fabricate miracles through science and engineering (ironical, isn’t it?), however this time the mischief is of a far greater scale. Their parents are a part of a huge conference to be taking place in Copenhagen – of which scientists and religious leaders are both a part. This is where the kids will find their parents. I will not give away the rest of the plot, as the title also is quite misleading and wraps itself towards the end of the book.

Amidst all the action are the secondary characters – that make up for most of the book and its excitement. There is an angry bishop, a deranged headmaster, two love-struck police officers, a deluded aristocrat, and many more along the way.

The book is eccentric, and not only when it comes to naming characters such as Svend Sewerman to Alexander Flounderblood, but also where the plot is concerned. There are so many twists and turns in the book that keep you hanging and wanting more, and that is what worked with me the most about the book.

The voice of Peter on the other hand is the star of the book. It reminded me of, “Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha”. Peter’s voice takes into account his perspective when he is growing up and adjusting to the world around him and at the same time trying to understand adults and their behaviour.

Peter HØeg’s writing has it all. This of course I say from experience, considering that I have read one book written by him. It is funny and dramatic in parts. The kids’ character sketches are drawn masterfully. The book is serene and moves at its own pace, evoking and pulling the reader inside. There is magical realism as well. So all in all, this book has everything in it. It is indeed magical to the core. I will recommend this book to one and all. A great place to start reading HØeg.

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Book Review: Smilla’s Sense of Snow by Peter HØeg

Title: Smilla’s Sense of Snow
Author: Peter HØeg
Publisher: Picador USA
ISBN: 9781250002556
Genre: Literary Fiction, Mystery
Pages: 512
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

Smilla’s Sense of Snow is a treat to read. There is everything in it which a book can offer – some great writing, mystery, literary fiction, and a sense of dry humour in certain parts. Peter HØeg proves that literature can be both entertaining and artful. Though on the surface, Smilla’s Sense of Snow is genre fiction, it is beyond just being a thriller.

Smilla’s Sense of Snow is based in Denmark and then takes the reader to the Arctic in order to solve a mystery. The book first released in 1993. I read it then and I have read it now and I must say that I enjoyed it more the second time round. Smilla Jaspersen – half Greenlander, half Dane, an unconventional loner and brilliant scientist, is struggling with her emotions (which she doesn’t display enough of) and is devastated when a young boy she had befriended mysteriously falls to his death from the roof of their apartment building. She doesn’t think it is an accident. From there on begins Smilla’s journey and the trail she follows to solve his murder.

The writing is good. The story is wonderfully told. (I do not read books that do not interest me; hence the books that I read are brilliant) The setting could not have been better. However, what stands out the most in this book is the characterization of Smilla. Smilla is an ordinary woman (do not mistake her to be that anyway). She is bold, clever, smart, instinctive and reckless at the same time. She is a rule-breaker (doing it all subtly) and is not afraid to say things the way they are. Peter HØeg has created a woman who will not opt for the role society expects her to play.

Smilla cannot connect with others and she knows that. She feels bad about it but she knows her limitations and that’s what I love about the character. May be that is why she wants to bring justice to the one friend she had made.

The descriptions are dense and required while writing a book that merges the setting and the mystery. One needs to mention the details and Peter HØeg has done a wonderful job of that. Smilla’s sense of Snow is not your regular mystery. It is surprising that at times it takes so much effort to read it, because of the intensity and how it is weaved through Smilla’s perspective and her way through the maze of questions and emotions.

Smilla’s musings are another dimension to the book. I loved reading them (as and when they came along). They added spice and character to the book.

Here’s one of them:

“Deep inside I know that trying to figure things out leads to blindness, that the desire to understand has a built-in brutality that erases what you seek to comprehend. Only experience is sensitive.”

In this world of Lisbeth Salander, I urge you to read Smilla’s Sense of Snow. It is as fresh and compelling as when it was first written. A brilliant feat.

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